Alaska Sen. Murkowski's attempt to curb EPA draws criticism

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 20, 2010 

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lisa Murkowski's controversial effort to curb the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of greenhouse gas emissions put her this week in the cross hairs of both the New York Times editorial board and environmentalists.

The Alaska Republican, who has been working to introduce the proposal since September, is seeking a way to keep the EPA from drawing up regulations for large emitters, such as power plants and manufacturers.

Her proposal has drawn the ire of environmentalists, who are launching an ad campaign in Alaska and Washington, D.C., drawing attention to the role two ex-Bush administration officials -- now lobbyists for energy interests -- played in writing Murkowski's initial proposal to curtail the EPA.

The lobbyists, Jeff Holmstead and Roger Martella Jr., represent a number of high-profile energy clients and told the Anchorage Daily News they were consulted about the language in Murkowski's first amendment. Politico reported last week that both men walked Senate staffers "through the details of the amendment, via speakerphone" during a meeting in September.

Holmstead's clients include CSX railroad, Arch Coal, Duke Energy and Progress Energy, according to Senate lobbying records. Martella's clients include the National Alliance of Forest Owners and the Alliance of Food Associations.

Many of the industries the two represent are big givers to Murkowski's re-election campaign, and according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, Murkowski leads Congress with the most donations this election cycle from electric utilities: $157,046.

In one of the TV ads paid for by the National Wildlife Federation's Action Fund, Alaskans are urged to call Murkowski to "tell her to put Alaska first, not the polluter lobby." And a radio spot paid for by the Friends of the Earth Action chides the senator for being "more interested in working for Washington lobbyists and special interest than she is in protecting Alaskans' way of life."

Murkowski, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, came out with her initial amendment in September, as the EPA was preparing to announce that pollution from greenhouse gases endangers public health. She has denied that the lobbyists wrote her amendment but has acknowledged they were among the experts in the Clean Air Act that her staffers consulted.

The EPA is working on regulations that will limit emissions by large producers of greenhouse gases, as part of its compliance with a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring the agency to determine whether greenhouse gases endanger the country's health and welfare.

The Obama administration has said it prefers that Congress write the guidelines, and even if lawmakers are slow to act, it could be years before the EPA rules take effect. But if Congress doesn't act at all, the EPA rules could set the standard for greenhouse gas emissions by large emitters, such as power plants, factories and other so-called stationary sources of pollution.

Murkowski's proposal is opposed by all 12 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has been working on its own climate-change legislation that would lead to a cap-and-trade system.

A spokeswoman for the Alaska senator said Murkowski hasn't yet decided whether she will offer her proposal as an amendment today when the Senate begins debating a bill allowing the government to raise the amount of money it can borrow. She is leaning toward another method, said spokeswoman Anne Johnson. That approach would involve a "disapproval resolution," a rarely used procedural move that prohibits rules written by executive branch agencies from taking effect.

However she chooses to introduce the proposal, wrote the editorial board of The New York Times, Murkowski's methods are "all mischievous."

"Senator Lisa Murkowski's home state of Alaska is ever so slowly melting away, courtesy of a warming planet," the Times wrote. "Yet few elected officials seem more determined than she to throw sand in the Obama administration's efforts to do something about climate change."

The editorial didn't faze Murkowski, said Robert Dillon, her spokesman on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "New York is about as far away from Alaska and the concerns of Alaskans as you can get," Dillon said.

As for the ads from the environmental coalitions? Those don't bother her, either, Dillon said. "These ads are brought to you by the same people who have kept ANWR locked up for the last 30 years," he said.

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