White House presses for new climate, wilderness protections

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 24, 2010; 12:00 AM

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that it will regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and oil refineries next year in an attempt to curb global warming.

The move, coming on the same day the Interior Department unveiled a plan to protect a broader swath of the nation's wilderness, demonstrated that the Obama administration is prepared to push its environmental agenda through regulation where it has failed on Capitol Hill, potentially setting up a battle next year with congressional Republicans.

The two decisions were unrelated and are in their initial stages. But both could have broad ramifications, and both sparked an immediate outcry from key GOP lawmakers and some affected industry groups.

EPA officials said they would set new performance standards requiring stricter pollution technology for electric utilities and oil refineries, which together account for almost 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

"We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce [greenhouse gas] pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans, and contributes to climate change," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.

Later in the day, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Bureau of Land Management would reassess which lands under its control should be designated "wild lands," making them eligible for congressional wilderness protection and barring activities such as drilling and mining unless they were redesignated through another public process.

"This is a fresh path that we are charting," Salazar said, standing beside two of his top deputies along with representatives from the outdoor recreation industry and a hunting and fishing group in Denver. "Americans love the wild places where they hunt, fish, hike and get away from it all, and they expect these lands to be protected wisely on their behalf."

But Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), who is slated to chair the House Natural Resources Committee in the new Congress, questioned whether Salazar had the authority to make the change.

"This backdoor approach is intended to circumvent both the people who will be directly affected and Congress," Hastings said in a statement. "I have to question why this announcement is being made only after Congress adjourned for the year. The Natural Resources Committee will fully review this decision next year and its impact on our nation's economic competitiveness and ability to keep and create jobs."

Several environmental experts said it made sense that the administration would exercise its regulatory powers more aggressively now that it has fewer allies in Congress.

"When Congress resists action on pressing environmental issues, regulation provides a way forward," said Thomas E. Lovejoy, University Professor in Science and Public Policy at George Mason University.

And Jeffrey R. Holmstead, who headed EPA's air and radiation office under George W. Bush and now represents utilities and other greenhouse gas emitters at the law firm Bracewell & Guiliani, said the agency has to navigate a fine line with its new rules.

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