This story was updated on Sept. 21.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) may attempt to handcuff U.S. EPA's ability to regulate stationary sources of greenhouse gases with an amendment to the agency's annual spending bill.
Murkowski, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, may introduce an amendment to the fiscal 2010 Interior and environment appropriations bill that would allow EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions only from mobile sources, and prohibit the agency from regulating heat-trapping emissions from stationary sources like power plants and industrial facilities.
"Senator Murkowski is concerned about the economic consequences of EPA command-and-control regulation of emissions," said spokesman Robert Dillon. The senator plans to file the amendment, Dillon said, adding that he did not know whether a decision has been made to press for a vote.
The Senate began debate yesterday on the $32.1 billion spending bill for the Interior Department, EPA and Forest Service. The chamber is expected to resume consideration of the measure Monday.
Murkowski's amendment comes as EPA works to finalize its "endangerment finding," which would trigger broad regulations of greenhouse gas emissions. The endangerment finding comes in response to the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court decision that ordered EPA to reconsider whether greenhouse gases are pollutants subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.
Murkowski wants to fully respect the court's decision on mobile sources, Dillon said, which is why the amendment would "request a one-year timeout on money that would be spent on regulation of nonmobile sources." The moratorium would give Congress a year to come up with a legislative solution, he said.
Environmentalists assailed the amendment, saying it would basically instruct EPA to ignore the law.
"This amendment suggests that if global warming pollution comes from a power plant, it is safe, but if it comes from a car, it is harmful," said David Moulton, director of climate policy and conservation funding at the Wilderness Society. "That is a preposterous distinction that cannot be supported in either law or fact."
Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch called the amendment "an outrageous assault on EPA's ability to interpret the Supreme Court decision."
Opponents said the amendment was particularly troubling given that it comes from a senator whose state is among the areas that could be hardest hit by climate change.
"From a senator who has talked about how her state is ground zero for climate change impacts, it is disappointing to see a move like this," said David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center.
Doniger also said he feared that the amendment could wind up handcuffing EPA for more than one year. "These riders have a way of repeating themselves and becoming long-term," he said.
The tactic is not a new one. Republicans, led by then-Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.), successfully included language in several EPA spending bills in the late 1990s that blocked the agency from implementing any part of the Kyoto Protocol.
Lawmakers mull additional amendments
Also on the Interior bill, Murkowski is considering offering an amendment on construction of a controversial road through Alaska's Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
She included a provision allowing the road, in exchange for additional wilderness for the refuge, in the omnibus public lands package that was signed into law in March. But environmentalists have asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to kill the provision by declaring that it is not in the public interest. Murkowski's rider would require Salazar to find that the land exchange is in the best interest of the nation, Dillon said.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has filed at least 16 amendments that would slash earmarks throughout the legislation. He took a similar approach during Senate debate on the bill to fund the Energy Department and other agencies, where he filed 24 amendments to strike earmarks (Greenwire, July 28).
Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback filed an amendment that would fund a wastewater treatment project in Wichita, Kan., and a sewer extension project in Manhattan, Kan.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said yesterday he is still planning an amendment to speed an EPA decision on allowing ethanol blends in gasoline above 10 percent (E&E Daily, Sept. 17).
"We're working on an amendment relating to the EPA and their ... glacially slow progress, or lack of progress on determining to go to a standard of 15 percent ethanol from 10 percent ethanol," Nelson said. "I know that this requires some study, but the amount of time that's been taken just seems inordinate and this is one way to stop that."
Reporters Darren Samuelsohn, Eric Bontrager and Ben Geman contributed.