Wyo. Lawmakers Tangle with Obama Over EPA

Mar 29, 2013

Wyoming Republican lawmakers are up in arms over efforts by the Obama Administration to regulate carbon emissions through the Executive Branch. Matt Laslo reports from Washington on the energy debate that’s boiling on Capitol Hill.

MATT LASLO:  Congress is so divided in Washington that lawmakers are struggling to pass relatively mundane agenda items, like a budget. The highly polarized atmosphere makes big ticket items, such as tackling climate change, nonstarters. That’s why President Obama is vowing to address global warming without congressional input. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis says sentiments like that are eroding public confidence in the government.

CYNTHIA LUMMIS: “The American people, when asked, do you believe that the government is acting with the consent of the governed, which is of course a founding principle, the vast majority say no.”

LASLO: The Obama Administration claims it doesn’t need new congressional authority to curb carbon pollution, because a past Congress already granted that authority.  In 1970 lawmakers passed the Clean Air Act, which is aimed at curbing hazardous pollutants. The chair of the Senate environment committee, Barbara Boxer of California, is a leading advocate of addressing climate change. But she says the work of the Legislative Branch is largely done.

BARBARA BOXER: “We passed the Clean Air Act – it is the law of the land. Laws are to be obeyed. The Executive Branch, in my view, has no option but to carry out the law.”

LASLO:  Lummis begs to differ.

LUMMIS: “I completely disagree with that statement and reject that statement. Congress cannot surrender its authority to make law to federal agencies.”

LASLO:  However, courts have ruled that the Clean Air Act gives the Executive Branch authority to curb carbon pollution. Chairwoman Boxer says that means the only chance Republicans like Lummis have of stopping the administration is by passing another law or by undoing the Clean Air Act.

BOXER: “They can’t over turn it. They tried to. We stood sentry the last few years and we stopped them from turning back the clock. They tried to pass legislatively a law that said greenhouse gas emissions were not covered under the Clean Air Act, and we beat them back and we’ve beat them back continually.”

LASLO: Wyoming Senator John Barrasso says the White House is abusing its authority because officials know that their climate agenda has no chance of passing this Congress.

JOHN BARRASSO: “We’re going to continue to fight against an effort by the administration to try to regulate what they can’t pass legislatively. The legislation ought to be proposed and passed in Congress that Congress thinks is in the best interest of the American people. It shouldn’t be the president going way beyond the original intent of the Clean Air and Clean Water Act and using them in ways they were never intended to be used.”

LASLO: It’s no secret that the debate over green house gas emissions is about more than health and the climate – it’s also about jobs. Environmentalists, like Mike Brune of the Sierra Club, argue taking aggressive action on climate change will help bring the U-S economy back to life.  

MIKE BRUNE:“It will create 350,000 new jobs and sustain at least 100,000 more. It will help to weatherize a million homes per year, which will act like a tax cut and help consumers save money all across the country.”

LASLO: While Wyoming is ripe for renewable energy sources like wind, its economy is also dependent on its fossil fuel industry. Senator Barrasso says having politicians pick winners and losers in the energy debate could hurt the state’s traditional energy sources.

BARRASSO: “People in Wyoming are appropriately concerned about so many wonderful jobs in Wyoming connected to energy and energy exploration and providing affordable energy to all Americans.”

LASLO: With jobs at stake back home Wyoming’s lawmakers are some of the most vocal in the energy debate going on in Washington. But if Wyoming Republicans can’t overturn the law, what can they do? One of their best chances is through funding – or more precisely, defunding. In the latest government funding battle Republicans were able to cut about ninety million dollars from the Environmental Protection Agency, which the president was forced to accept. Lummis says that’s just a first step.  

LUMMIS:“ So we’re going to be working hard to push back, to have appropriate legislation that is in place, and was legally enacted. And that is not arbitrary, not capricious, and that is certainly not contrary to law.”

Matt Laslo:  Many say the battle over climate change will be decided in court, which means there’s likely to be more questions than answers facing the energy sector and lawmakers in the coming years.  

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Matt Laslo in Washington.