After the mid-term elections, Democrats and Republicans can agree that cap-and-trade legislation for greenhouse gas emissions is dead for the foreseeable future. However, the climate change debate will continue in the next Congress, pushed by the Obama administration’s plan to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the arrival of newly-elected conservative Republicans, who are skeptical of the science underlying proposals to address climate change.

EPA regulation of greenhouse gases will remain front and center as opponents mount a new effort to scuttle or delay rules for major emitters scheduled to take effect on Jan. 2. Many opponents see those limits as part of a “backdoor cap-and-trade agenda,” as Sen. Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, phrased it.

Environmentalists and state officials say the recently released EPA guidance on greenhouse gas permitting provides sufficient certainty for regulated entities. Industry and congressional critics say the guidelines are insufficient and too late and that EPA’s rule for stationary sources will be a moratorium on new construction in the power and manufacturing sectors.

EPA’s regulatory authority under the CAA could be a bargaining chip for winning GOP support of the piecemeal energy bills that President Obama has described as “chunks.” It is unlikely the Administration would trade its regulatory authority for anything less than mandatory emission cuts.

While opposition to cap-and-trade is officially included in the House GOP policy agenda, talks on at least a limited cap on power plant emissions likely are to continue in the Senate. Sen. Kerry, D-Mass., claims there is an interest among a handful of Republican moderates in a utility cap. Sen. Carper, D-Del., suggested that pending EPA regulations for conventional air pollutants, which are opposed by industry, could provide an incentive for utilities to strike a deal on multi-pollutant legislation that also caps carbon dioxide emissions.

It is highly unlikely those talks will produce legislation capable of winning House Republicans’ support. Half of the incoming GOP House members have expressed doubts that man-made global warming exists. To the consternation of environmentalists, several Republican House members who are poised to chair committees in the next Congress have signaled their intent to investigate the science behind warming.