Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) last Thursday took the rare step of introducing a "disapproval resolution" to block the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Clean Air Act (CAA). It sparked an immediate counterattack by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who called Murkowski's action a "new low" in the Senate.
Speaking from the Senate floor for 20 minutes, Murkowski, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she could not turn a "blind eye" to the EPA's attempt to impose "backdoor climate regulation." She believes GHG emissions should be addressed in climate legislation rather than in regulation, and by Congress -- not the Obama administration.
The bipartisan resolution was backed by three Democrats -- Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana -- and by 35 Republicans, according to Murkowski. The resolution of disapproval is a rarely used instrument by Congress. It has been attempted only twice in the past -- once successfully.
EPA regulation of GHG emissions could effectively be negated if Murkowski's disapproval resolution is ratified (see NGI, Jan. 18). Murkowski stepped up her efforts in late December to combat the EPA's endangerment finding, which held that carbon dioxide and GHG emissions pose a danger to the public's health and welfare.
Murkowski can bring the "disapproval resolution" up any time on the Senate floor for a vote, but she plans to wait for Republican Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts to be seated before doing so, said spokesman Robert Dillon. The resolution would only require 51 votes to pass the Senate, but it is much less likely to receive a favorable vote in the House where leaders are strong supporters of GHG regulations.
"I continue to believe that this command-and-control approach [by the EPA] is our worst option for reducing emissions...We should take [the] EPA regulations off the table," Murkowski said. The resolution specifically is seeking to overturn the EPA's endangerment finding that sets the stage for the agency to stringently regulate emissions even if Congress fails to enact climate change legislation (see NGI, Dec. 14, 2009).
Murkowski contends that the Obama administration is using the EPA's threatened action as a stick to get Congress to move more quickly on climate change legislation that it otherwise would. "That strategy has failed so far and will continue to fail in the months ahead because members of Congress will not enact bad legislation in order to stave off bad regulation," she said.
"There is a small, but growing, possibility that Congress will approve [a measure] that would delay EPA regulation of greenhouse gases. While it is unlikely that Democrats would give up this stick to motivate congressional action on climate, the increasing concern sparked by the Massachusetts backlash and ongoing economic concerns make this an increasingly viable option," said FBR Research analysts last week.
In offering the disapproval resolution, "my goals here are twofold: to ensure that Congress has sufficient time to work on climate legislation," and to ensure a "massive expansion of the Clean Air Act" does not occur before that task is completed, Murkowski said.
If the EPA's endangerment finding is finalized, Alaska's proposed natural gas pipeline would be "significantly hobbled," and it would "serve to depress economic activity" in the Lower 48 states, she noted.
Boxer, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called Murkowski's resolution an "unprecedented move" to overturn the finding by health experts that carbon pollutants endanger the public. "This is radical. This has never been done in the past."
"The Murkowski resolution is a direct assault on the health of the American people," Boxer said. "This is a new low in my humble opinion."
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