Politics & Government

Clean Air battle: Murkowski takes EPA fight to Senate floor

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lisa Murkowski took her battle with the Environmental Protection Agency to the floor of the Senate Thursday, saying she was left with no choice but to fight a federal agency she believes is "contemplating regulations that will destroy jobs while millions of Americans are doing everything they can just to find one."

The Alaska Republican announced she would seek to keep the EPA from drawing up rules on greenhouse gas emissions from large emitters, such as power plants, refineries and manufacturers. Murkowski did it by filing a "disapproval resolution," a rarely used procedural move that prohibits rules written by executive branch agencies from taking effect.

On Thursday, she threatened dire economic consequences if the EPA, rather than Congress, writes the rules for how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Both the White House and congressional leaders have said they prefer to write a law that would cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but while the House of Representatives has passed such legislation, it has stalled in the Senate.

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.

If Congress fails to act, the EPA’s rules could set the standard for greenhouse gas emissions from big, stationary sources of pollution. Murkowski on Thursday re-emphasized her concern about an executive branch agency writing the rules rather than lawmakers.

“If Congress allows this to happen there will be severe consequences to our economy,” Murkowski said. “Businesses will be forced to cut jobs, if not move outside our borders or close their doors for good perhaps. Domestic energy production will be severely restricted, increasing our dependence on foreign suppliers and threatening our national security. Housing will become less affordable.”

She was immediately countered by Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the committee that has done the most work on climate-change legislation: the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Murkowski’s disapproval resolution would essentially throw out the process by which the EPA found that greenhouse gases endanger public health, Boxer said.

The California Democrat called Murkowski’s resolution an “unprecedented move to overturn a health finding by health experts and scientific experts in order to stand with the special interests.”

The EPA had no immediate comment. But the agency has been fighting Murkowski since she introduced a proposal last fall that called for limiting for one year the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. Murkowski argued then that it would give Congress time to work on its own climate legislation so that what she called "the worst of our options, EPA regulation," didn't take effect before lawmakers completed their work.

Murkowski has as co-sponsors 38 fellow senators, including three Democrats: Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Her move has prompted an aggressive response by environmentalists, who launched a radio and television advertising campaign in Anchorage and Washington, D.C., that focused on the role two industry lobbyists had in writing Murkowski’s original proposal last fall.

It’s not clear how much support Murkowski has beyond her 38 co-sponsors. All 12 of the Democrats on Boxer’s committee oppose the disapproval resolution.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also criticized Murkowski’s effort, saying recently during an event in New York sponsored by the Geothermal Energy Association that Murkowski’s proposal was “misguided.”

“It's a highly political move, and a highly hazardous one to our health and the environment," the Nevada Democrat said. "If this senator succeeds, it could keep Congress from working constructively in a bipartisan manner to pass clean energy legislation this year."

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