WASHINGTON — Two lobbyists had a hand in writing language proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski that could curtail the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate major emitters of greenhouse gases.
Their involvement, first reported Monday by The Washington Post, came at the request of a staffer on the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, where the Alaska senator is the top Republican. Both of the lobbyists, Jeff Holmstead and Roger Martella Jr., represent a number of high-profile energy clients. Both had top positions in the EPA during the Bush administration.
Murkowski has led the charge against the EPA's role in regulating greenhouse gas emissions, saying she has concerns about an executive branch agency, rather than Congress, writing such regulations. Her original amendment would have been attached to a spending bill and it would have prohibited the EPA for one year from spending any money on developing regulations for greenhouse gases.
Her original amendment failed to move forward but Murkowski has continued to search for a way to keep the EPA from drawing up regulations for large emitters, such as power plants and manufacturers.
Holmstead said he and Martella took a look at the language in Murkowski's original proposal and offered some suggestions. Such work is a common practice in Washington, Holmstead said. He said that he and Martella were not acting on behalf of any particular client. They also were not the only people to look at the language, Holmstead said.
"This is what lawyers in Washington do every day of the week, is to take a look," Holmstead said. "It happens all the time on almost every piece of legislation. Before language is introduced, it is almost always shared with people on all sides of the issue."
Both men had high-ranking positions in the EPA during the Bush administration. Holmstead was an assistant administrator for air and radiation. Martella served as the EPA's general counsel. Holmstead's clients include the 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.
Murkowski's proposed amendment came shortly before the EPA announced in December that pollution from greenhouse gases endangers public health. At the same time, the agency announced plans to move forward with regulations that will limit emissions by large producers of greenhouse gases.
The EPA's move to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions is 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. If the agency found that such emissions are indeed dangerous -- which it did -- the court instructed the EPA to address the problem.
The Obama administration has said it would prefer that Congress write the guidelines, and it could be years before the EPA rules take effect. But if Congress doesn't act, the EPA's rules could set the standard for greenhouse gas emissions on the part of large emitters such as power plants, factories and other so-called stationary sources of pollution.
Murkowski's spokesman on the Energy committee, Robert Dillon, said Monday that Murkowski and her staff "write all of her amendments." He also said that Murkowski made it abundantly clear while writing the proposal that she had consulted a number of stakeholders, including lawyers with expertise in the Clean Air Act.
"While Sen. Murkowski did seek feedback on the amendment from many sources, including the Environmental Protection Agency, Democratic and Republican senators, as well as a number of Clean Air Act experts, it did not influence the substance of the amendment," Dillon said. Her aim was to avoid unintended consequences, Dillon said, including having an effect on EPA's new guidelines for automotive emissions.
He pointed to her Sept. 24 speech on the floor of the Senate, in which Murkowski complained the EPA had been unresponsive to her requests. In that speech, she disputed claims by the EPA that her amendment could have a negative effect on its effort to regulate automobile emissions, and said that it had been vetted by attorneys with expertise in such language.
"Some of our nation's leading Clean Air Act attorneys -- among the best and brightest legal minds -- have assisted us in its preparation," Murkowski said at the time. "They agree it will do exactly as it says, and that leaves very little ground for the claims that have been made against it."
Dillon said Murkowski may introduce the legislation next week as an amendment to a Senate bill that raises the limit on how much money the U.S. government can borrow. She also is considering going forward with a "disapproval resolution," a rarely used procedural move that prohibits rules written by executive branch agencies from taking effect.