Alaska's Murkowski proposes stalling EPA's gas emission rules

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 22, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Environmentalists say they're disappointed in a proposal by Sen. Lisa Murkowski to force the Environmental Protection Agency to hold off for a year on regulating so-called "stationary" emitters of greenhouse gases, such as power plants.

The Alaska Republican's proposal essentially forbids the EPA from working to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and large manufacturers while the Senate continues to work on its own global warming proposal. It would not keep the agency from continuing work on emission standards from mobile sources, such as automobile emissions.

"The Senate is moving so slowly it's disingenuous to say we just need a time out," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. "They want to handcuff the EPA."

Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, plans to introduce the proposal in an amendment to a spending bill. Her proposal does not have the backing of the EPA, which is currently working to comply with a 2007 Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, which requires the agency to determine whether certain greenhouse gas emissions are harmful to the environment and public health.

The EPA has done so, and is currently in the middle of writing the final "endangerment finding" that would put the agency on the path of regulating greenhouse gas emissions. If Congress doesn't act on legislation to cap emissions, the work the EPA is doing could emerge as the standard.

Robert Dillon, Murkowski's spokesman on the Energy Committee, said the senator's stance had been misunderstood. She thinks the Clean Air Act, which the EPA is operating under, is a blunt instrument unsuited to developing cap-and-trade guidelines, Dillon said. That's more suited to Congress, he said.

"This isn't an attempt to stop climate action," he said. "It's an attempt to recognize that it's really important we get it right."

The EPA has several concerns about the Murkowski amendment, said Adora Andy, a spokeswoman for Lisa Jackson, the EPA administrator.

The EPA worries that Murkowski's proposal will stall other work the agency is doing on other stationary sources of emissions. That includes stalling the issuance of fuel standards for renewable fuels as well as enacting regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act for capturing carbon and sequestering it to curb global warming, Andy said.

"This amendment would have several negative side effects for American industry," Andy said.

Environmentalists say that Murkowski's move is part of what they believe is a troubling pattern from a Republican who has seen first hand the effects of global warming in her home state. They point to comments made in Alaska during the congressional recess, where Murkowski called the version of a cap-and-trade bill passed by the House of Representatives "cramdown legislation." A climate bill is "not ready for prime time this year," she warned the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

Murkowski, while skeptical early on of the causes of global warming, has always been receptive to talking about the subject and supports action, said Pat Lavin of the National Wildlife Federation's Alaska Office. And while her ultimate support of a cap-and-trade bill remains in question, Lavin said, she has long acknowledged "the seriousness of the issue," particularly in Alaska where eroding coastlines and melting permafrost are obvious effects of global warming.

Now, though, Lavin said, "I'm no longer convinced she's looking for a solution."

It's not clear how much support Murkowski's proposal will have -- the amendment, if it comes up for a vote, will be to an Interior Department spending bill that must be voted on by the entire Senate.

But Murkowski's move has drawn unusually swift condemnation from environmental groups and clean air advocates such as O'Donnell. He said Monday he hopes that other senators will recognize Murkowski's proposal as a "dumb idea that doesn't belong in an appropriations bill. I would think the odds are against her."

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