WASHINGTON — The prospects for a comprehensive climate-change bill favored by public power utilities is presumed dead following Tuesday's election because Republicans, who will control the House in January, have opposed such measures, sources said Thursday.
Republicans could continue to attempt to block federal regulation of carbon emissions, they said, forcing states to take the lead.
President Obama signaled in a press conference Wednesday that lawmakers still could find common ground on some energy policy, instead of allowing federal regulations to require more sudden and stringent changes by entities like utilities.
"I don't think there's anybody in America who thinks that we've got an energy policy that works the way it needs to, that thinks that we shouldn't be working on energy independence," he said. "And that gives opportunities for Democrats and Republicans to come together."
But it is "doubtful," Obama said, that the energy legislation previously approved by the House will pass muster with Congress now, either in the lame-duck session or after the new session begins next year. Instead, federal lawmakers may have to look for compromise in areas like natural gas development, electric cars, or nuclear power, he said.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has laid claim to greenhouse-gas regulation under the Clean Air Act, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2007 on the kinds of emissions that would fall under the act. The EPA in December issued its finding that six greenhouse gases are a threat to public health and welfare, signaling to stakeholders that more regulation is on the way.
Republicans led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska tried unsuccessfully this year to block the EPA's ability to regulate those emissions. Market participants said House Republicans could take another shot at stopping the EPA but would be up against a Democrat-led Senate and pressure to tackle other problems like job-creation and the economy first.
Obama said Wednesday that the EPA "wants help from the legislature on this. I don't think that the desire is to somehow be protective of their powers here."
The agency simply wants to be sure emissions are being "dealt with," the president said.
"We would prefer and have been on record supporting a delay" in EPA regulations, said Nick Braden, spokesman for the American Public Power Association.
Obama's statements suggest he may support a compromise on the timing so that utilities can comply with new regulations, Braden said.
Meanwhile, states and municipalities probably will become the drivers of climate-change policy, according to Daniel Kreeger, executive director of the Association of Climate Change Officers.
"The onus on getting policy in place is going to fall on states and municipalities," Kreeger said, citing a climate agreement signed by 1,100 mayors.
If just the major metropolitan areas set climate-change policies, it could set in motion a larger wave of policies affecting businesses and utilities, creating a "swiss cheese" regulatory environment that could force the hand of Congress to act, he said.