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US Senate to delay vote on broad climate legislation

The US Senate [official website] will not pass broad climate legislation during this session, according to statements made Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) [official website]. Reid said that the body lacks the 60 votes necessary [BBC report] to end debate on the bill and pass the legislation, but also indicated that he would attempt to pass a smaller bill focused on energy efficiency, promoting the use of natural gas, and increased deepwater drilling regulations. The US House of Representatives [official website] passed its version of the climate bill [JURIST report] last year. Several versions of climate change legislation have been negotiated and debated in the Senate. Last month, Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced legislation [S 3464 text, PDF] intended to reduce foreign oil dependence [JURIST report] and cut greenhouse gas emissions. An energy bill [S 1462 materials], including amendments aimed at decreasing dependence on foreign oil imports, passed out of committee with Republican support in 2009, but key Republicans supporting that legislation have since withdrawn their support. Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) [official websites] also worked on developing a comprehensive bill [materials] that would have included a cap-and-trade [CFR backgrounder] scheme, but efforts stalled after Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) [official website] withdrew his support in April [JURIST report], citing concerns that the Obama administration planned on moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform [JURIST news archive]. It is unclear whether Reid will be able to garner the votes necessary to pass the smaller bill.

The Senate's failure to pass comprehensive climate legislation will likely revive the debate over the authority of administrative agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] to implement standards aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions [JURIST news archive]. Last month, the Senate defeated a resolution [materials; JURIST report] aimed at limiting the authority of the EPA to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act [materials]. Supporters of the resolution argued that Congress, and not the EPA, should have the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] affirmed the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act in its 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report]. In its ruling, the court held that if the EPA could show a link between greenhouse gas emissions and public health and welfare then the act gives it the power to regulate emissions. The EPA announced last December [JURIST report] that it had found that greenhouse gases "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations," and that emissions from motor vehicles contribute to greenhouse gas pollution. The EPA first announced its proposed finding [JURIST report] in April before undertaking a 60-day public comment period.

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