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Senate energy bill: first skirmish over US greenhouse-gas regulation

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Soon, the focus is expected to shift quickly to greenhouse-gas emissions. In line with the high-court ruling, President Bush in May issued an executive order for the EPA to begin working on a new rulemaking process to create standards that reduce carbon from auto emissions – and to work closely with DOT and other agencies. At this point, the legal documents to do so are nearly complete and an EPA announcement is expected before year's end to comply with the Supreme Court's decision.

But in an internal debate last week, EPA chief Stephen Johnson told White House officials unequivocally that the EPA intends to issue an "endangerment finding" for carbon-dioxide emissions, according to one source familiar with the discussion, who asked not to be named because he was not permitted to speak to the press. Such a move could vastly accelerate federal regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions across a range of industries, the source says.

"The EPA has decided to go ahead with broader construction of an endangerment finding. That's what Johnson told the West Wing people – that EPA was going ahead with a strong finding," the source says.

When asked for comment, a White House spokesman said: "I can't speak to any communication the EPA administrator has had with the White House," said Scott Stanzel. "I can say that if Congress is going to take action on modern CAFE standards, they should want that process to be enacted, and not usurped, by a regulatory process."

An EPA spokeswoman, Jennifer Wood, wrote in an e-mail: "EPA and its federal partners remain on track to take the first regulatory step in addressing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles."

If the EPA does announce a finding – saying that public health and welfare is endangered by CO2 emissions – the EPA would be required under the Clean Air Act to crack down on "major" emitters, legal experts say. That could be a very broad group indeed, including any stationary emitter in the country that emits 250 tons or more, according to congressional testimony last month by Peter Glaser, a clean-air expert at Troutman Sanders, a Washington law firm.

Apparently concerned about such a prospect, the US Chamber of Commerce and industry groups that represent refineries and manufacturers sent a Dec. 7 letter to the Senate, warning that the bill's "overlapping authorities" could produce the "unintended triggering of an expansive and costly stationary [greenhouse-gas] source control program."

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