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Alaska's Murkowski Goes Toe-to-Toe with EPA

October 12, 2009
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Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska blasted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its role in allegedly undermining support for her amendment that would have delayed agency regulations on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act (CAA) for one year.

In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson last Wednesday, Murkowski expressed her "considerable disappointment" with the agency's failure to discuss her amendment prior to it being offered, and the EPA's immediate release -- following Senate rejection of Murkowski's amendment -- of a proposed rule to control GHG emissions from stationary sources under the CAA.

The amendment, which Murkowski offered as part of a spending bill in late September, would have prohibited the EPA from spending money to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) from stationary sources under the CAA for a period of one year, thus giving the Senate more time to act on climate change legislation. Senate Democrats blocked a vote on the controversial proposal. Murkowski claimed that EPA regulation of CO2 under the CAA was being used as a "thinly veiled threat" against the Senate to force action on climate legislation.

To generate EPA support, "I reached out to EPA to request your analysis and repeatedly stated that I would modify the text of my amendment to account for concerns raised, especially those of the EPA," but was rebuffed at every turn, the Republican senator wrote.

"While EPA personnel could not find the time to respond to our request for a discussion of the amendment and its potential effects, EPA personnel did seem to find time to contact a number of others whose businesses are dependent on EPA permits [to] tell them that my amendment would make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to obtain such permits," Murkowski said.

One such company was the U.S.-based arm of Royal Dutch Shell plc. The agency reportedly told Shell that the Murkowski amendment would result in "unintended consequences" for Shell's air-permit applications to drill in Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort seas, Dow Jones Newswires reported. The applications for the air permits are pending at the EPA. Neither Shell nor the EPA responded to NGI's requests for comments.

"These unsolicited contacts with entities regulated by the EPA are particularly concerning, not only because your staff failed to reply to my explicit request for a discussion of the amendment itself, but also because I strongly disagree with your agency's assessment of the impact the amendment would have had," Murkowski said.

"I hereby request that you provide a complete list of all individuals and businesses that were contacted by EPA staff about the potential impacts of my amendment."

Just days after the defeat of Murkowski's proposal, the EPA released a proposed rule to regulate GHG emissions from stationary sources, with a focus on large emitters such as power plants. Large industrial facilities -- including power plants, refineries and factories -- that emit at least 25,000 tons of GHG per year would be required to obtain construction and operating permits covering these emissions.

"Your agency's proposal to regulate stationary source emissions...has confirmed that, for at least a five-year period, the EPA intends to ignore the existing trigger for mandatory regulation of pollutants under the Clean Air Act -- either 100 tons per year or 250 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent -- in favor of a level [25,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent] that is more 'feasible' to enforce.

"Your agency proposed this rule knowing full well that it is bound to adhere to current law and does not have the discretion to arbitrarily increase the regulatory threshold simply because enforcement at a given level is politically unsustainable," Murkowski said.

She called on the EPA to provide any analysis it has done, or has commissioned to be done, to identify the economic impact that would result from the regulation of GHG emissions under the CAA at emission levels of 25,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent, 10,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent, and 250 tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent.

She also asked the EPA's Jackson to justify "what, if any, legal basis exists for the EPA [to alter] the plain language of the Clean Air Act without an amendment to that statute having been passed by Congress and signed into law by the president."

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