April 1, 2011- As members of Congress consider whether to block U.S. EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, many state legislators across the country are cheering them on.
Eight states ranging from Michigan to Virginia have adopted formal resolutions this year pressing Capitol Hill lawmakers to block what they term the agency's regulatory "train wreck." Some 14 other state legislatures have parallel measures that are working their way through committees in state chambers.
The action comes at a time when Republicans have made historic gains in state chambers in November elections. It also represents the growing influence of a free-market group of industries and state legislators, the American Legislative Exchange Council, that recently touted model legislation condemning EPA, analysts say.
That model legislative language offered by the council via its "train wreck" website and companion documents has popped up in nearly identical form in most of the states passing and considering the measures.
The resulting legislative text has little practical effect, but instead lists multiple grievances against EPA, such as "concern is growing that, with cap-and-trade legislation having failed in Congress, EPA is attempting to obtain the same result through the adoption of regulations." The text then calls for Congress to adopt legislation prohibiting "EPA by any means necessary from regulating greenhouse gas emissions." It also advocates for a moratorium on new agency regulations and an Obama administration study on the economic effect of curbing emissions.
Both the U.S. Senate and House are expected to consider measures in coming days handcuffing EPA's ability to regulate heat-trapping gases. Unlike the state measures, which are protest votes, so to speak, the congressional bills could stymie the agency's plans.
Messages to Washington delegations
For state legislators offering the resolutions, the goal is to gain the attention of lawmakers from their same state in Congress before they cast a vote on Capitol Hill. "State legislators are closer to the people than members of Congress," said Michigan state Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R), the primary sponsor of an anti-EPA resolution that passed the state House in March.
"All of our industries are scared to death," added Indiana state Rep. David Wolkins (R), chairman of the Indiana House Environmental Affairs Committee and the sponsor of a resolution that passed the chamber this year. The coal industry, in particular, is worried about shutdowns because of directives from Washington, D.C., he said.
Like several other state representatives sponsoring the resolutions, he said the language (pdf) in his bill came from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.
In addition to Indiana and Michigan, Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming have adopted parallel measures this year. Other states considering resolutions include Missouri, Montana, Minnesota, Alaska and West Virginia.
Even though the state bills have no direct impact, there is concern about a "ripple effect" of these bills in states strapped for money, said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. On Jan. 2, new EPA rules kicked in requiring constructors of new or modified facilities with high greenhouse gas output to install "best available control technology" to control the gases.
Twenty-five million dollars requested by Obama to help states develop the infrastructure for greenhouse gas permitting is likely to not come through, leaving cash-strapped state governments to pay the employees and fund the permitting that must come with EPA's new greenhouse gas rules. These bills protesting the agency signal that money may not be forthcoming at a time of high deficits across the country, said Becker.
"If there's a conservative state legislature that is opposing environmental protection, they are not going to want to fund robustly these state or local regulatory agencies," he said.