WASHINGTON — The White House made it clear Tuesday that President Barack Obama will veto Sen. Lisa Murkowski's proposal to curtail the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, in the unlikely event the Alaska Republican's proposal passes Congress.
Murkowski on Thursday will ask fellow senators to vote on a rarely used disapproval resolution, which signals congressional displeasure with the EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health. The proposal would keep the federal agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from large polluters such as power plants, a regulatory move already under way in the absence of any comprehensive climate bill by Congress.
The White House went as far as to issue a statement of administration policy on the EPA matter, and said Tuesday that the proposal from the Alaska Republican would "undermine the administration's efforts to reduce the negative impacts of pollution and the risks associated with environmental catastrophes, like the ongoing BP oil spill."
"As seen in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental disasters harm families, destroy jobs, and pollute the nation's air, land and water," the White House wrote.
The administrator of the EPA, Lisa Jackson, had even harsher words Tuesday at an EPA environmental conference for small business owners. She called the oil spill a "tragic reminder of the hazards of our oil addiction" and accused Murkowski of undermining the agency's efforts to zero in on large emitters, not small ones.
"It would take away EPA's ability to take action on climate change," Jackson said. "And it would ignore and override scientific findings, allowing big oil companies, big refineries and others to continue to pollute without any oversight or consequence. Finally, it will result in exactly zero protections for small businesses."
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 long 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.
The Murkowski resolution has even trickled into local politics in Alaska.
Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, a Republican who replaced Sen. Mark Begich in the job last year, lashed out at his predecessor for failing to support Murkowski's proposal.
"Your loyalty should first-and-foremost be with the people of our state," he wrote to Begich.
Begich, is "disinclined" to vote for it, a spokesman said.
On Tuesday, Murkowski and the nine Republican senators who stood beside her during a press conference worked to distance the disapproval resolution from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which began April when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and killed 11 workers. She called the administration's efforts to link her resolution to the oil spill a "new low" and "an insult to those impacted by the spill and to the hundreds of stakeholders that are concerned about the economic consequences of EPA's climate regulations."
"Ultimately this resolution is about protecting the economy and preventing agency overreach," Murkowski said.
However, one of her Republican colleagues, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said the Gulf spill and the country's climate policy are inexorably linked. Doing nothing on climate change is not an option, said Graham, who until recently was a co-sponsor of a climate bill being written by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.
But Graham also said he dislikes the idea of the rules the EPA is writing. The country must produce more of its own oil, Graham said, but also must use less of it.
"You know, the Gulf oil spill is a heartbreaking event," he said. "To those who believe that fossil fuels are -- they're going to be with us for a while, but would you let your children go swimming in the Gulf now? Why do you think burning that stuff and breathing it is good for you, if you wouldn't let your kids swim in it?"
Murkowski needs 51 votes for the measure to pass the Senate on Thursday. Right now, her resolution has 40 co-sponsors including three Democrats: Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
However, environmentalists said they don't see the vote as a referendum on a climate bill. Some senators who vote for it might do so because they want Congress setting the agenda, not the EPA, said Dan Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate Center.
Lashof also disputes Murkowski's contention that the oil spill and the Gulf and her resolution have no link.
"What the public wants to see is a comprehensive response that not only tightens the regulation of drilling, but moves the country decisively onto a clean-energy path that breaks our dependence on oil," he said. "And the Murkowski resolution would move in the wrong direction on that."
Other environmental groups have called it "Big Oil's resolution," and have seized on it as an example of the close ties Murkowski and many others in Congress have to oil companies.
"At this point this vote is a blatant test to see who still stands with the oil companies," said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president of the National Wildlife Federation. "My advice to senators would be to ask themselves what Tony Hayward would do and do the opposite," he added, referring to BP's chief executive.