The Senate is expected to vote next week on a resolution by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to disapprove of greenhouse-gas regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Air Act.
The measure would essentially pre-empt the agency’s ability to move forward with regulations of greenhouse emissions in response to its finding in December that they threaten public health and welfare.
Supporters of the resolution say it could buy some time for Congress to work on a comprehensive climate-change bill and for public utilities to prepare for new rules.
“We believe it has been in the interest of utilities for Congress to come in” and set emissions criteria instead of allowing the EPA to regulate them, said Joy Ditto, director of legislative affairs for the American Public Power Association.
Public power utilities currently have no technology available to eliminate carbon dioxide, one of the gases released in the processes they use to generate electricity from coal and natural gas, according to Ditto.
“For us, that could mean in certain cases that plants get closed,” she said. “From what we’ve heard from our members, that could mean that they shut down a plant in the near term.”
She added that it could “potentially” affect utilities’ credit ratings. When bond-issuing public power utilities sit down with rating agencies, the topic of regulation always comes up as a concern, Ditto said.
Following the EPA’s movement toward regulation, rating analysts said it would have an impact on municipal issuers and could put downward pressure on utilities.
If the EPA takes regulatory action, “we’re facing regulations on some of our generating units in January of 2011,” Ditto said. “That’s really quick.”
If approved by the Senate, the resolution would still have to be approved by the House and signed by the president. The resolution had 40 cosponsors in the Senate as of yesterday. Murkowski is
the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Four similar measures have been introduced since the EPA’s decision last year. None of the resolutions have made it past their committees, and Murkowski’s resolution has been stalled in the Environment and Public Works Committee since January.
The Alaska Republican’s office said yesterday that the vote is expected based on an agreement reached by Murkowski and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Alternately, the APPA said a bill by Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W. Va., could give utilities and Congress some breathing room to transition into “greener” energy. The legislation would put a two-year suspension on EPA actions with respect to certain non-motor-vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
Rockefeller’s bill has been pending in the Environment and Public Works Committee since it was introduced in early March.