Murkowski Moves to Thwart EPA Regulation of Emissions

| Wed Sep. 23, 2009 8:50 PM EDT

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced an amendment on Wednesday that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, saying such a course of action could result in an "economic train wreck."

Murkowski’s amendment would block the EPA from creating regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources—like power plants, refineries, and manufacturers—for another year, though the agency could continue work on regulating emissions from automobiles. Murkowski says the "timeout" is needed "in order to give Congress time to act on legislation that would address climate change responsibly, hopefully with as little economic impact as possible."

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"I am not suggesting through this amendment that we should take the issue of climate change legislation off the table," said Murkowski in a call with reporters hosted by the Republican National Committee on Tuesday. "I believe we do need to be working this as an issue," she continued, but added that "competing priorities" before the Senate likely mean that they won't get to climate legislation this year. And in the absence of legislative action, she wants to make sure the EPA doesn't pick up the slack. "The EPA can move forward, will move forward and fill that legislative vacuum if we have not moved forward," she said.

The request for a delay comes more than two years after the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that the agency could regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act—and in fact has an obligation to. Murkowski argues that since the specific case dealt with automobile emissions, EPA regulation of mobile sources should proceed while stationary sources should be put on hold. Yet her interpretation plays fast and loose with the Supreme Court's decision and with the basics of the Clean Air Act, which mandates that once an emission is found to be a hazard to human health and welfare, the EPA shall begin regulating the sources of that pollutant. To refrain from so would violate the law, even if the specific case that raised the question dealt with automobiles.

Murkowski planned to ask for her amendment to come up for a vote on Wednesday afternoon, as the Senate is considering a $32.1 billion spending bill which covers appropriations for the EPA as well as the Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service.  

With world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations Climate Summit, Murkowski also downplayed the idea that Congress needs to move forward on regulating greenhouse gas emissions this year, before leaders convene in Copenhagen in December to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. Rather than approving a bill that will allow the US to participate fully in treaty deliberations, she argued that Congress should instead move even slower than it has thus far.

"The notion that we would as a Congress try to ram through legislation such as climate change legislation just so that we can go to Copenhagen and say that we have taken steps to address climate change, to me is not the correct way to proceed," she said. "I believe this is a serious enough issue that we should take the time to do it correctly. A conference coming up is not the right reason."

Other Republican senators are also looking to use the appropriations process to obstruct environmental research and regulation. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has submitted an amendment to the appropriations bill that would block funding for regional climate change centers that analyze and prepare for the impacts of climate change, and an amendment that would cut off funds to carry out directives from White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy director Carol Browner. Vitter has said he is not convinced that humans are causing global warming.

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