On Thursday afternoon, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) pulled out a rarely-used Congressional tool in an attempt to keep the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating carbon and other greenhouse gasses. Sen. Murkowski offered a “resolution of disapproval” of the EPA’s impending action, which would limit companies’ carbon emissions.
The resolution would overturn the EPA’s finding that carbon dioxide is harmful to the public health. Three Democrats—Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA)—joined Sen. Murkowski and 35 Republicans in sponsoring the resolution.
“Ms. Murkowski’s Mischief‘”
“This command and control approach is our worst option for reducing the gasses associated with climate change,” said Sen. Murkowski on the floor of the Senate yesterday. She called the EPA’s actions “backdoor climate regulations with no input from Congress” and said they would damage the country’s flailing economy.
The EPA first announced in April 2009 that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses posed a threat to the public health. The agency formalized that finding last month, giving itself the power to regulate emissions of greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act. In March 2010, for instance, the agency is expected to announce carbon emissions rules for the auto industry that would match California’s higher standards. Sen. Murkowski’s resolution would derail that process.
Sen. Murkowski argued that she wants to give Congress room to come up with a legislative solution to climate change, but her critics see a more dangerous tilt to her resolution. “It’s a radical attempt by the legislative branch to interfere with executive branch scientists,” writes David Roberts at Grist.
Responding to “Ms. Murskowski’s mischief” on the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called the resolution an “unprecedented effort to overturn scientific decision” and “a direct assault on the health of the American people.”
Resolution of disapproval
What is a “resolution of disapproval?” Grist’s Roberts called it “the nuclear option.”
“It would rescind the EPA’s endangerment finding entirely and thereby eliminate its authority over both mobile and stationary sources,” Roberts explains. “Furthermore, the administration would be prohibited from passing a regulation “substantially the same” as the one overruled, so the constraint on the EPA would effectively be permanent.”
This type of resolution was created by the Clinton-era Congressional Reform Act. The resolution has one big advantage: It cannot be filibustered. Passage requires only a majority in both houses of Congress. Members have tried using it in the past to delay the Dubai Ports World deal, derail FCC regulations on new media, and stop the flow of bailout funds.
Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones has been following Sen. Murkowski’s actions closely. She reports that “Senate supporters of climate action say Murkowski could obtain the votes of moderate Democrats from coal, oil, and manufacturing states. However, a resolution would still need to be approved by the House and signed by the president—both long shots, to put it mildly. ‘I think we’re a little worried about [Murkowski’s resolution] winning. I’m not sure we’re worried about it becoming law,’ a Senate Democratic staffer says.”
But Grist’s Roberts argues that passage in the Senate alone would be a problem. “Even if blocked by the House or vetoed by the president, such a public, bipartisan slap at the administration would be highly embarrassing and demoralizing,” Roberts writes. “It would mean at least ten conservative Democrats washing their hands of the administration’s initiative.”
Climate change and Congress
Sen. Murkowski insists that she’s still ready to work with her colleagues on climate change and that it’s better to approach the problem of climate change via legislation, not regulation.
But no one in Washington believes that climate change legislation is going to pass—even come to the Senate floor—any time soon. The issue was already in line behind health care, and the election of Republican candidate Scott Brown to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat this week means that none of the bills that the Senate is working on are likely to come to a vote this year.
“There was hope that the [climate] bill would come to the floor in the spring,” writes Steve Benen at Washington Monthly. “Regrettably, a narrow majority of Massachusetts voters have made it significantly more likely that Congress won’t address the problem at all. Proponents focused on solutions have vowed to “persist,” but Massachusetts has made a difficult situation considerably worse.”
The role of special interests
Sen. Murkowski has come under criticism for allowing Bush-era EPA administrators, now lobbyists representing clients on climate change issues, to help her craft an earlier amendment cracking down on the EPA. Yesterday, she said that those criticisms are “categorically false.”
But as JP Leous reports at Care2, Sen. Murkowski does receive substantial backing from energy industries that oppose climate change legislation and regulation.
“According to OpenSecrets.org Sen. Murkowski has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from polluting companies, and some of her biggest campaign contributors in recent years include firms with fossil-fueled motives like Exxon Mobil Corp,” Leous writes “Add those dots into the mix and a different picture emerges — and it starts to look like a person who is poised to introduce legislation next week attacking the Clean Air Act.”
On the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Boxer charged, “Why would the Senate get in the business of repealing science? Because that’s what the special interests want to have happen now. Because they’re desperate.”
The Democratic Senators who co-sponsored the resolution also come from energy producing states where companies object to the new EPA regulations.
If at first you don’t succeed…
If Sen. Murkowski’s resolution does pass the Senate, there’s little chance it will pass the House as well. But this isn’t the only option that regulation opponents are looking at to fight the EPA. The Chamber of Commerce and other groups are planning to challenge the regulatory action in court, as Mother Jones’ Sheppard reports.
Last week, these opponents met to discuss their strategy. What’s interesting, Sheppard says, is that “the group was apparently divided on the best course of action. The Hill observes that “two camps have emerged.” One wants to challenge whatever rules the EPA issues, while another wants to question the science of global warming itself.”
We’re back to that old saw? With legislation off the table, the fight over climate change, for now, is in the regulatory arena.
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