WASHINGTON — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is challenging in federal court the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the federal Clean Air Act.

The challenge stems from the EPA's decision in December that such emissions are dangerous to public health and welfare and should be regulated by the agency.

Market participants have said the regulations could put financial stress on public power utilities and potentially affect their credit profiles.

Several states, energy industry groups, and the Chamber of Commerce previously asked the EPA to reconsider its decision.

However, the agency shot down the requests in a lengthy denial effective July 29 that said claims that the EPA's findings were flawed relied on "inadequate and generally unscientific arguments."

The Chamber responded Friday by filing a petition in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The petition asked the court to review the EPA's decision.

The basic argument put forward by the Chamber of Commerce is that the EPA cannot regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act because the act was not created to address an issue like global climate change.

"The Chamber supports efforts to address climate change that allow our economy to grow, increase the nation's energy security, and improve our environment. We continue to call on Congress to work through the legislative process, rather than having the EPA misapply environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act," said Robin Conrad, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center.

There has been opposition to the EPA's decision in Congress as well. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in June lost a legislative battle to stop greenhouse-gas regulation by the EPA.

Backers of the measure said it would have bought time for Congress to approve a comprehensive climate-change bill and for public utilities to adjust to new emissions rules.

Since then, lawmakers have failed to approve any large-scale climate bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said last month that Democrats could not rally enough votes in the Senate to pass a bill that would cap carbon emissions.

The American Public Power Association has favored congressional action instead of EPA regulation, because Congress likely would allow time to adjust to new rules, whereas the agency's rules would begin as early as January.

Public power utilities are currently unable to remove carbon dioxide emissions from the process of generating electricity from coal and natural gas, according to the APPA.

Almost one-half of the electricity supplied by municipal utilities comes from coal-fired power plants.

The logistical and financial difficulty of complying with carbon-emissions restrictions could affect utilities' finances and possibly their credit ratings, the APPA and analysts have said.

However, the APPA has decided it will not join in petitioning for a review by the federal court. "We don't think it's the best strategy," Nick Braden, spokesman for APPA, said Tuesday.

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