Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Senators Move to Block EPA From Regulating GHGs

Led by the efforts of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), 35 Republicans and three Democrats have co-sponsored a "resolution of disapproval" of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare. This endangerment finding, which authorizes the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007 (Massachusetts v. EPA).

While the Bush Administration never had any intention to seriously address climate change, the current administration has tried to use EPA's imminent regulating power as leverage to impel Congress to pass an economy-wide climate bill. Indeed, President Obama's staff have expressly stated that they didn't want to see the EPA have to use its regulatory authority; they wanted to see comprehensive legislation to address the matter in a more democratic (and likely less onerous) way. The House passed its climate bill in June; the Senate has gotten almost nowhere, as seems to be the standard nowadays.

Because the threat of EPA regulation is still at hand, and because they have no intention of compromising with Democrats (who, for whatever reason, acknowledge much more readily that climate change is a grave threat to national security, human health, economic prosperity, and environmental protection), Republicans are now leading the charge to strip EPA of its power, effectively eliminating any federal response to the global crisis. They've had over a year to come up with a legislative compromise, and several bills are on the table, but, as Murkowski said just last week:
Congress must be given time to develop an appropriate and more responsible solution.
Translation: "I don't like the Democrats' climate bill, since Alaska has a lot of fossil fuels and consumes by far the most energy per capita in the country, and even though the effects of climate change can be seen in my state better than anywhere else in the country, I'd rather put off any sort of bill to 'address' the issue until we have more Republicans in the Senate and can get more fossil fuel production provisions in a bill. Which, by the way, won't address climate change at all, and will only serve to neutralize mitigation measures."

Most Republicans, by the way, would never even consider voting for a bill with a cap-and-trade mechanism. Murkowski is (or was) one of the few, but wants lots of climate-harming measures in there as well, in a sort of 'war is peace'/'we can only go forward by moving backward' mentality.

Meanwhile, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has joined with Murkowski in call for the disapproval. This is especially disappointing, as he has allegedly been working with Sens. Kerry and Lieberman to craft a bipartisan cap-and-trade bill over the past several months. He admitted recently that nothing is on paper yet. And now his best solution is to eliminate any potential greenhouse gas regulation (which would, as I've said, be superseded by the bill he is allegedly working on)? Even 'enlightened' Republicans seem to be talking out of both sides of their mouths.

The good news: Even though the disapproval would only need 51 votes to pass, President Obama will almost assuredly veto it. The bad news: Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts has probably erased the possibility of a worthwhile Senate climate bill, both because he will vote against it (even though he voted for Massachusetts to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative) and because Democrats are getting the wrong message from his election ('uh-oh, people are angry at us, let's stop trying to solve serious problems').

What we know is that Obama doesn't want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. But he doesn't want to lose that bargaining chip either. So the question is, if (hopefully when) this disapproval resolution fails, will Republicans work with Democrats to pass a climate bill? Or will they wait it out until they have more seats in Congress, vote down the EPA's authority, and leave climate yet untouched for a few more years or decades (maybe until serious flooding starts occurring on our coasts, or our ag lobby decides that maybe climate change isn't great for their output)? I'm going to dejectedly predict the latter.

Images: Supreme Court on greenhouse gases (Slate), Sen. Murkowski (The Guardian), EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (heatingoil.com)


  1. The Republicans will obstruct either way. If they can strip the EPA of its authority, great. Then they will certainly have no incentive to work on a climate bill (despite what Graham says). If they can't block the EPA, they still won't have any incentive to work on climate, since its an issue they can beat up Democrats over (despite most Americans believing in and wanting to deal with climate change). And if a climate bill passes, Republicans will still crow about how it's killing the economy, despite what the measurable effects are (since even if almost all the effects are positive, Republicans will find something negative to say about it, and, as always, will dominate the news cycle.)