The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: Murkowski vs. the EPA

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with permission)

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 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.


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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  1. Global Warming is not real. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. In fact, most of carbon dioxide is actually water vapor. Only about 4/10000 of “carbon dioxide” is actually carbon dioxide. The rest is all water vapor. And to say that our government wants to tax Americans for breathing out carbon dioxide is just preposterous-we can’t help it! Also, the world has actually been cooling down the past eleven years. There’s just too little evidence to support it and too much evidence to reject the theory. Say what you want, but I believe this is all a hoax mostly started and supported by Al Gore. He’s probably made a billion dollars off this global warming thing. I could say more but I want you to do research on global warming and see what the real facts are, what is really happening in this great country of America. Thank you for your time, and good bye.

    P.S. I am 13 and live in a very blue state (Michigan). If I am able to see the facts in all of this even with all the praise for Obama and the far left from people my age, I think you can see the facts also.

    • Hey Jimmy,

      Thanks for the interesting comment. Let me address some of your key points:

      1) By its very definition, all the atmospheric CO2 is actually CO2, just as all the water vapor is water vapor. I think what you are trying to say here is that by far the predominate greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is water vapor. This is, of course, correct and well understood by all scientists (irrespective of their position on global warming), and anyone with even a cursory understanding of the chemical makeup of the atmosphere. Other greenhouse gasses include methane and nitrous oxide. What is important to note is the different characteristics of the various greenhouse gasses, in particular their lifecycle. Water vapor cycles through the atmosphere in days, CO2 in years and decades. Check out this post I wrote back in 2007:

      If your source or influence of information on this issue suggests that the predominance of water vapor as a greenhouse gas is somehow ignored or not understood by climate science, then that source of information does not fully understand the issue.

      2) I agree that it is a silly idea to try to regulate you and I exhaling. Fortunately, nobody is suggesting that (except perhaps for Glenn Beck of Fox News). What is important to remember is the difference between the natural carbon cycle (when you exhale you are releasing the same carbon you just inhaled – thus your breathing has absolutely no impact on the net carbon in the air) and what might upset that natural carbon cycle. By digging up millions of years worth of stored geologic carbon and then burning it into the atmosphere in barely two hundred years, the natural carbon cycle is impacted. Of course, it is only these emissions that upset the natural carbon cycle that anyone proposes regulating.

      3) It is a very common myth that the average global temperatures have been cooling since 1998, since that year was a strong El Nino year. In fact, the past decade has been the warmest in the instrumental record, with 2005 the hottest year. There are many sources for you to look at for this, but you might start here:

      4) I appreciate that you come from a blue “Obama-loving” state, but I have to ask you what that has to do with anything. It certainly makes no impact on climate science. I’ve been studying this issue since long before Obama was elected, and in fact long before you were born. It really is a sad testament to the state of our political discourse in this country that an issue like climate change has turned into such a polarized political football. That fact is that John McCain has sponsored climate legislation and if he had been elected, he would probably be trying to get some energy and climate legislation passed, just as Obama is. Again, whatever your source of information is that suggests your political affiliation is an issue in climate science is really letting you down. You certainly can disagree with policy, but climate science is not new, and not driven (or at least it shouldn’t be) by political ideology.

      Jimmy, I hope there comes a time soon that you are able to seek out your own independent sources on this issue. I would kindly suggest that your current sources are misinformed and therefore misinforming you as well. Don’t take my word for it, seek this out on your own. Many of the things you cited in your comment show at best an incomplete understanding and at worst a complete misunderstanding of this issue. I don’t think that is your fault.

      If all the adults in this world supposedly “in charge” can do no better for you, then we are letting you down. Far more than for me or any other adult that influences your thinking on this, this issue is about your future and that of your friends and schoolmates.

      I wish you the best of luck.
      (this is a good place to start to understand the scientific method, and arguments for and against global warming)

  2. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in not just an embarrassment to democracy, she is a danger to the health and well-being of everyone on this planet. Why some of our politicians seem to thrive on polluting the planet is difficult to understand, but this move by Murkowski is clear evidence that the petroleum lobby is alive and well!

    Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said it best when she called the resolution an “unprecedented effort to overturn scientific decision” and “a direct assault on the health of the American people.”


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