- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Obama administration’s key backup weapon in the climate-change debate faces a critical test as the Senate votes Thursday on whether the Environmental Protection Agency should have the power to impose new regulations to attack global warming even if Congress fails to act.

The resolution, proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, would overturn EPA rules scheduled to begin kicking in next year to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, which many scientists say are a major contributor to global warming.

Mrs. Murkowski said the EPA regulation would adversely affect her state’s economy by threatening projects such as the construction of a natural-gas pipeline.

“There has been a great deal of misinformation spread about my effort by groups — almost all of which are based outside of Alaska — who want to cut the emissions blamed for climate change no matter what the cost,” the senator said in a statement.

Conservative lawmakers and energy industry officials applaud the move to scale back the decades-old Clean Air Act, which they complain is too restrictive, bureaucratic and expensive.

But environmentalists and other critics say Mrs. Murkowski’s measure is based more on partisan politics than solid scientific evidence. Efforts by congressional Democrats and the Obama White House to pass a major new energy bill have stalled on Capitol Hill, and many global-warming activists have looked to the EPA as an alternative way to curb U.S. carbon emissions.

Opponents of the Murkowski resolution got a late boost as a new poll Tuesday from Yale University and George Mason University reported that 77 percent of Americans now favor government regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant, up six percentage points from January. A March Gallup Poll, conducted before the BP oil spill in the Gulf, had found growing public skepticism of global warming concerns.

The EPA last year announced that six gases, including carbon dioxide, pose a danger to the environment and the health of Americans and that it would draft new regulations to reduce those emissions. 

The EPA’s “endangerment finding” came as a response to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that carbon dioxide and other gases should be considered pollutants under the Clean Air Act. The George W. Bush administration did not act on the court’s ruling, but the EPA moved quickly after Mr. Obama took power in 2009.

Mrs. Murkowski said the Clean Air Act, the bulk of it written in 1977, was never intended to regulate issues such as climate change.

“The economy-wide implications of regulating greenhouse gases are not compatible with the blunt tools afforded the EPA under the act,” a Murkowski policy statement says.

However, former EPA Administrator Russell E. Train said Mrs. Murkowski’s argument is inconsistent with the law’s history and “misconstrues the original intentions of Congress.” 

In a May 24 letter to Senate party leaders, Mr. Train said the measure is nothing more than a stalling tactic by lawmakers to avoid difficult decisions on an “emerging [environmental] threat.”

“Such proposals are driven not by science but by political considerations,” said Mr. Train, who ran the EPA from 1973 to 1977. “The Clean Air Act was not written to protect politicians; it was written to protect the American people.” 

The resolution, which needs 51 votes to pass, faces an uphill battle although the proposal cannot be filibustered under Senate rules.

Of the measure’s 40 co-sponsors, only three are Democrats: Sens. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Two Republicans — Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — so far haven’t signed on as co-sponsors.

Even if the Senate approves the Murkowski resolution, it faces even tougher scrutiny in the House. Even if it clears both chambers, a White House veto is likely.

Mrs. Murkowski on Tuesday pushed back at what she said were false links between her efforts to limit EPA climate regulations and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

“The EPA’s endangerment finding does nothing to help clean up the Gulf of Mexico, ensure that impacted victims receive timely compensation for damages or prevent future spills,” the senator said.

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