Politics & Government

Alaska Senators Begich, Murkowski in opposing camps over EPA

WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has become the face of an all-out assault on the Environmental Protection Agency, but she won't be joined in that fight by her Democratic counterpart from Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich.

Begich and six other Democrats last month signed on to a letter authored by Sen. John Rockefeller of West Virginia asking the EPA to elaborate on how the agency planned to move forward with regulating greenhouse gas emissions blamed for warming the earth.

Since then, though, Begich has been satisfied with the agency's response, said his spokeswoman, Julie Hasquet. Right now, he does not intend to join with Murkowski's disapproval resolution, which would prohibit the EPA from developing rules that regulate the emissions of large polluters such as power plants.

Rockefeller later filed legislation that would keep the EPA from moving forward for another two years. Hasquet said Begich decided not to co-sponsor that legislation, either, because he was satisfied with the EPA's response to their letter. He was also satisfied that Congress would be able to act before the agency did.

"It clarified a lot of things," Hasquet said. "Some folks were speaking as though something were happening tomorrow, and like these regulations are going into effect next week. When in fact if you read the letter back from the EPA, there's all sorts of varying timelines, none of which are anytime soon."

"His feeling is that he thinks at this point, it looks like Congress will have time to act, to write an energy bill that addresses these issues," he added.

Murkowski, who has drawn the support of 41 senators -- including a handful of Democrats -- has until mid-June to introduce her disapproval resolution for a vote.

Meanwhile, the White House has gotten involved in the push to get the Senate to write a bill that addresses climate change and emissions. Murkowski was among 14 senators of both parties, along with the head of the EPA and other cabinet officials, who met with the president to talk about energy.

Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, left without speaking to reporters. She was the only Republican from Senate leadership ranks to attend the meeting.

The bipartisan meeting focused largely on how the Senate can move forward on a climate change bill that both parties can agree to, and how quickly. The House of Representatives has already passed such a bill, but that version doesn't have enough support in the Senate to pass.

Regardless of the work being done on a climate bill, Murkowski continues her effort to block the EPA's role in regulating emissions. Wednesday, she touted a letter that 20 U.S. governors had sent, urging Congress to develop emissions rules, not the EPA. That letter, whose chief authors were Republican Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, also was signed by Gov. Sean Parnell.

"These letters demonstrate the growing public opposition to EPA imposing backdoor climate regulations," Murkowski said Wednesday in a statement. "As more and more stakeholders take a closer look at EPA's attempts to regulate the emissions blamed for climate change, they're recognizing that those actions will cause economic harm and job losses at a time we can afford neither."

Her spokesman on the Senate Energy Committee, Robert Dillon, said they continue to believe the EPA has "not been forthcoming with answers."

"They've been very evasive and very vague in their responses, and that's raised more and more concerns among members," he said. "How they plan to implement this, when they plan to regulate what."

Not so, said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who on Monday in a speech called Murkowski's efforts "the same old tired arguments."

"Supposedly these efforts have been put forward to protect jobs," Jackson said. "In reality, they will have serious negative economic effects."

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