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Environmental Rules Likely Target Under Republican-Controlled Congress

Election Day is a week away, and Republicans are holding out hope that their party can gain control of the Senate and keep control of the House. If that happens, it will give Republicans like current Minority Leader Mitch McConnell more leverage to take action on the Obama Administration’s environmental policies. These policies include proposed limits on greenhouse gases from new and existing power plants, and many others that McConnell has railed against over the past six years.Bloomberg BNA environment reporter Anthony Adragna spoke with me about his recent article detailing the environmental effects of a Republican takeover of Congress.Listen to a conversation with Adragna about his recent article.Adragna said one of the first targets for a Republican-led Senate would probably be efforts to stop the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas regulations from taking effect.“So there’s obviously the potential for stand-alone legislation, which Senator McConnell obviously has championed for this session, and I think there’s still going to be significant pressure to get a vote on those,” Adragna said.“If Republicans take control of the Senate, and especially if Leader McConnell becomes Majority Leader McConnell, there’s going to be votes and Senator McConnell has said as much publicly.”

But it’s probably more likely that Republicans will use the appropriations process to take the teeth out of those rules and cut funding to the EPA. Unlike a bill, it will be more difficult for President Obama to veto appropriations outright because he’ll risk a government shutdown. Adragna said it remains to be seen what steps can legally be taken to stop the greenhouse gas legislation, because the EPA is mandated to address carbon dioxide emissions afterthe gas was determined to be a danger to human health in 2009.Another likely target for a Republican-led Congress would be updated standards for ozone, which haven’t yet been released. From Adragna’s article: House and Senate Republicans have already released companion legislation (H.R. 5505, S. 2833) targeting the yet-to-be released proposal on whether the EPA will revise or retain its national ambient air quality standard of 75 parts per billion for ozone. The bills would effectively block the EPA from revising the ozone standard until 85 percent of the counties that are not in attainment with the current standard are in compliance. One of the House bill's sponsors, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), said action pushing back on the EPA proposal would be likely in the first half in 2015, and he vowed that fighting the ozone standard would be his top energy priority in the new Congress. Becker said he can't imagine the president would go along with legislation to prevent EPA from setting a more stringent standard, but said he really wasn't sure. With a Republican Senate, advocacy groups would need to analyze such far-reaching proposals more clearly and make the true effects of those proposals clear to policymakers, rather than counting on the Democratic-controlled Senate to block them, Becker said. “Many would hope that [Obama] would not back off,” Becker said, “but who knows?”There are several other environmental policies that would be targets for a Republican-controlled Congress, including attempts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Actand the stream buffer zone rule.But ultimately, Adragna said it’s hard to say whether a slight Republican majority would be able to enact many of the policies GOP members of Congress have championed.“I personally question what impact it’s going to have,” he said. “The reality is you still need 60 votes to get most everything done in the Senate. We may see major implications in terms of nominations, I think the process there has been slow and it could get even slower. But the reality is, you need 60 votes, so if Republicans take control with 51, it remains to be seen what implications that actually has.”But he said one thing is certain: whether it might not translate to decisive votes or policy changes, a Republican-led Senate would ensure that environmental issues undergo more scrutiny and come up for votes more often. The chamber’s new leaders—which could include McConnell, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) -- have been frequent critics of the Obama Administration’s environmental policies and will likely make a point of getting them on the agenda.

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