Murkowski offers resolution to block EPA GHG action under CAA

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 22 -- US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) introduced a disapproval resolution cosponsored by 35 Republicans and 3 Democrats on Jan. 21 to keep the US Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Murkowski, who is the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member, took the step more than a month after announcing that she was considering it following EPA’s Dec. 7 finding that GHGs pose a significant danger to human health and the environment.

EPA studied the matter in response to a 2007 US Supreme Court decision that GHGs fit within the CAA’s definition of pollutants. Its endangerment finding following an examination of scientific evidence and consideration of public comments set the stage for it to develop regulations.

The White House and congressional Democrats have said they would prefer to have the situation addressed with legislation. The House approved a climate change bill with a carbon cap-and-trade program in late June, and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee sent a similar measure to the floor in November. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) delayed consideration while the full Senate discussed health care.

“Our bipartisan resolution deals with an incredibly important question: whether or not members of this body are comfortable with the actions EPA will take under its current interpretation of the [CAA],” Murkowski said in a Jan. 21 floor speech. “I’m not comfortable with those actions, and neither are the senators who have already agreed to add their names to this effort.”

Democratic cosponsors
Sens. Mary L. Landrieu (La.), Blanche L. Lincoln (Ark.), and Ben Nelson (Neb.) are the resolution’s three Democratic cosponsors. “Carbon emissions should be reduced, but not through costly and complicated EPA regulations or a disadvantageous cap-and-trade proposal in Congress,” Nelson said in a statement. “They should be reduced through a comprehensive energy bill that promotes efficiencies and renewable energy through innovation and new technology that will help our state’s economy as we clean up the air.”

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) immediately condemned Murkowski’s resolution in a press conference with other Senate Democrats and representatives of groups supporting EPA’s actions. Calling it “an assault on the health of the American people,” Boxer said that the measure was the first attempt by a US senator to overturn a scientific health finding.

“The only thing protecting people from carbon pollution is the CAA. Lisa Murkowski wants to take this away because if there’s no endangerment finding, EPA can’t control carbon pollution,” she maintained. Citing the House’s bill and the measure which her committee approved despite a boycott by Republican members, Boxer said that other climate change proposals are emerging in the Senate. “We know that we need to find the 60 votes. But we also know that we cannot, and must not, repeal a scientific health finding,” she said.

Murkowski filed her disapproval resolution under provisions of the Congressional Review Act, which had then-Sens. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and Reid as its principal sponsors in 1996. It was incorporated into the Contract with America Advancement Act that year and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, according to a statement from her office.

It said that upon introduction, a disapproval resolution under the CRA is referred to the committee with jurisdiction, which would be the Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Boxer, in this case. If the committee does not favorably report the resolution, however, it may be discharged upon petition by 30 senators. Once a disapproval resolution is placed on the Senate calendar, it is subject to expedited consideration and can not be filibustered, the statement said.

Murkowski’s resolution faces an uphill battle. Even if the Senate and House approved it, US President Barack Obama probably would veto the measure. But it could provide an early indication of Senate interest in climate change legislation, which many Washington observers believe now will come in an energy bill instead of cap-and-trade measures.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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