CLIMATE:

Coal lobbyist downplays role in Murkowski amendment

Industry lobbyist Jeff Holmstead is downplaying reports that he influenced an amendment to limit U.S. EPA climate regulations, but environmentalists are pointing to his role as proof that polluters were behind the effort.

Holmstead, former air chief during the George W. Bush administration and now an attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani, acknowledged that he advised Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office on an amendment offered last fall. He maintained, however, that he had no role in writing the language.

"It is a wild exaggeration to say that I was somehow involved in drafting it," said Holmstead, whose clients include Southern Co., Duke Energy Corp., Arch Coal Inc. and the Salt River Project. He said the senator's office contacted him to ensure that the proposal did not go beyond its stated goal of limiting stationary source regulations for one year.

Holmstead's comments came after the Washington Post reported yesterday that he and another former EPA official, Roger Martella, "helped craft the original amendment Murkowski planned to offer on the floor last fall."

Martella, who served as EPA general counsel also during the Bush administration, is now an attorney at Sidley Austin, and represents the Alliance of Food Associations and the National Alliance of Forest Owners, according to recent lobbying reports. Martella was not immediately available for comment.

Environmentalists pounced on the reports as evidence that coal and oil interests are behind Murkowski's efforts.

"We now have proof that lobbyists for Big Oil, dirty coal and other special interests are directly involved in recent attempts to bail out big polluters and gut the Clean Air Act," said a Sierra Club press release. "What's more, these big polluter lobbyists are the same former Bush administration officials who completely disregarded the Clean Air Act and even disobeyed the Supreme Court for years."

Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said, "It's pretty clear who's supporting and behind Murkowski. It's clearly the coal cabal and others who would try to block EPA from taking action."

Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon said the Alaska senator reached out to a host of experts beyond the former Bush administration officials when considering the amendment, including EPA, Senate Democrats and Republicans, and other clean air experts. "To make it look like it was written by industry is just a hatchet job," Dillon said.

Murkowski's amendment, introduced to the fiscal 2010 EPA spending bill, would have prohibited the agency from regulating heat-trapping emissions from stationary sources like power plants and industrial facilities for one year. The proposal was quashed when Senate leadership decided not to allow the Alaska senator to offer it on the floor (Greenwire, Sept. 24, 2009).

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and some environmental attorneys argued last year that the amendment would have had the unintended effect of upending the agency's pending greenhouse gas limits for automobiles (E&E Daily, Sept. 24, 2009).

Dillon added that EPA never offered Murkowski's office a substantive response to requests for discussions about the amendment and its possible effects. Murkowski sent a letter to Jackson last October expressing "considerable disappointment" over how EPA handled the amendment (E&ENews PM, Oct. 8, 2009).

Jackson responded to Murkowski's concerns in an Oct. 20 letter laying out the agency's explanation for how the amendment would have affected pending EPA rules.

Murkowski plots next step

Murkowski is now considering several other approaches to curb EPA's regulatory authority: another amendment that could be introduced on the floor next week and a formal disapproval resolution to block the agency from moving forward with all greenhouse gas regulations.

In a letter sent to senators last week, 37 left-leaning groups asked lawmakers to vote against an amendment from Murkowski (E&ENews PM, Jan. 11).

Dillon said the senator still has not decided whether to offer an amendment or move forward with the disapproval resolution.

Some proponents of efforts to limit EPA climate regulations are concerned that offering an amendment would open the door to a second-degree amendment from Democrats that would codify EPA's efforts to tailor greenhouse gas regulations so they do not hit the smallest industrial sources.

Lou Hayden, a policy analyst with the American Petroleum Institute, said in an interview last week that his group supports Murkowski's efforts but has concerns about the tailoring rule (Greenwire, Jan. 8).

"We just have to be careful in the legislative solution that's put forward," Hayden said. "What we want to avoid is the tailoring rule, because the tailoring rule does not protect small emitters."