Fred Upton (R-MI), the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has released his bill which would block the EPA from implementing greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act. This bill will likely get a vote in the House when they return to session.

Rep. Fred Upton (R. Mich.), chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, will introduce a bill that is “narrowly drawn” and “prevents the Clean Air Act from being transformed into a regulatory vehicle to impose a cap-and-trade energy tax,” a Republican aide on the committee said Tuesday night.

Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, plans to introduce the same bill in that chamber, the aide said.

Several lawmakers have introduced legislation in the last month to block or cripple the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. They assert Congress should be the government body to develop a global warming policy – not EPA.

Of course, Congress as currently constructed will never develop a global warming policy. When you have Mark Kirk, who previously supported cap and trade and even voted for it in 2009, literally cite Al Gore’s personal life as the reason for the collapse of consensus, you see how completely paralyzed the Congress will be, probably for some years.

So the only actions Congress will take will be to eliminate, not advance, regulations on the books to fight greenhouse gas pollution. In addition to Upton-Inhofe, Jay Rockefeller has a slightly less constrictive plan to delay regulations on greenhouse gas emissions for two years. He already has the support of six other Democrats:

Democrats Jim Webb (Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Tim Johnson (SD), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Kent Conrad (ND) have signed on as co-sponsors to Rockefeller’s bill. Their statement calls for granting Congress “enough time” to pass a climate bill, rather than regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. (Not mentioning, of course, that it’s now been four years since the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA could and should start this process, in the absence of a new climate-specific law.)

“We must give Congress enough time to consider a comprehensive energy bill to develop the clean coal technologies we need and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, protect West Virginia and improve our environment,” said Rockefeller in a statement. “We can address emissions and secure a future for the U.S. coal industry, but we need the time to get it right and to move clean coal technology forward.”

Notice that a “comprehensive energy bill” is entirely about developing so-called clean coal, in Rockefeller’s construction. The closest thing you’re going to have to a comprehensive bill is that “clean energy standard” that President Obama laid out in his State of the Union address, but the US Chamber of Commerce came out against it yesterday. While a clean energy standard was no substitute for climate change legislation, you could envision a world where coal production gradually reduces as a result of the agreement. But that’s not the world we’re likely to live in. Far more likely is one where these anti-EPA bills get folded into a clean energy standard package:

So here’s how it goes down. Republicans hint at possibly being on board, only … they want EPA authority over CO2 reversed. Only … they want additional subsidies for “clean coal.” Only … they want supercritical coal plants without any carbon sequestration to count as “clean coal.” Only … they want more subsidies and regulatory favors for nuclear power. Only … they want EPA not to regulate natural-gas fracking. Only…

Over the course of months of flirting and will-they-or-won’t-they, Republicans get Democrats to signal that they are willing to make some or all of these concessions in order to get a deal.

In the end, Republicans pull their support, there’s no deal, no policy, and the net effect of the experience is that Democrats are on record as being willing to compromise away what’s left of clean energy policy.

The other option is that the clean energy standard withers, the Rockefeller delay bill is seen as the sensible alternative to the elimination of EPA authority for reducing emissions under the Clean Air Act, and it passes. Given the seven Democrats in support, and the fact that Mark Begich and Mary Landrieu voted for basically the same measure when it came up last year, you probably have 56 votes right now for it.

Neither option comes as good news to anyone interested in protecting the planet.

David Dayen

David Dayen