Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) probably won't support his fellow Alaskan, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in her bid to hamstring U.S. EPA climate rules, he said yesterday.
Begich said he is "strongly considering" voting against Murkowski's resolution to block EPA from issuing climate regulations because the EPA threat keeps pressure on the Senate to pass a comprehensive energy bill.
"We need a comprehensive energy plan and if this keeps the fire under these guys to get something major done, I'm all for it," Begich said.
The Senate is slated to vote Thursday on Murkowski's resolution, which would essentially veto EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. The "endangerment" finding gives EPA the authority to issue rules to curb the heat-trapping emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Murkowski and her Senate supporters want to block EPA before the agency formally begins to regulate greenhouse gases from cars and industrial facilities next January, but some opponents of the measure argue that the threat of EPA regulations must stay on the table in order to prod reluctant lawmakers to support broader climate and energy legislation.
"The danger if Murkowski were to become law is that there isn't the immediate incentive to put a price on carbon," said Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).
"I believe that the EPA's enforcement of the endangerment finding would be clumsier and less targeted than if Congress were to act -- in that regard I agree with Senator Murkowski and many others," Udall added. "I don't, however, think you take it off the table as a tool until the Congress has priced carbon."
Architects of a Senate climate and energy bill have said that they hoped to garner support for their legislation by offering a market-based alternative to a command-and-control system from EPA.
"I think that's why we were able to enjoy the benefit of the -- really surprising to a lot of people -- the support from some of the regulated industries," Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said last month. "Because they know if we don't act legislatively, they're going to face the gun on rules from EPA." Lieberman is co-sponsoring a comprehensive climate and energy bill with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).
Begich said yesterday that while the Kerry-Lieberman bill is "not a perfect bill," the sponsors are trying to "get a comprehensive look" at energy solutions by including provisions for offshore drilling, oil and gas and renewable energy.
Begich has been cited as one of the possible Democratic swing votes Murkowski is seeking in order to reach the 51 votes the resolution needs to pass the Senate. Murkowski has 40 co-sponsors, including three Democrats.
Counting the votes
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee and a co-sponsor of Murkowski's resolution, said yesterday that Murkowski may fall short.
"She's counting the votes. I'm not," Inhofe said. "She was five short. I don't believe she thinks it'll pass. It could have happened in the last seven days, I don't know."
Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon said there are still plenty of undecided senators. "I think it can go either way," he said. "The question remains, where are those Democrats that have expressed concern about EPA regulations but haven't declared where they would vote."
Several moderate senators said yesterday that they still have not decided whether to endorse the resolution.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), co-sponsor of a separate effort to block EPA's stationary source regulations for two years, said he "might" vote for Murkowski's measure. Several other Democrats co-sponsoring his bill, including North Dakota Democrats Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad, said they still have not made up their minds.
"I have not reached a conclusion," Conrad said. "I want to hear the debate before I reach a conclusion."
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) also said they had not decided.
"I'm still reviewing what the impact would be," Collins said.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has repeatedly blasted the resolution, in part because it would upend greenhouse gas emission standards for tailpipes.
In a Huffington Post op-ed yesterday, Jackson called the resolution "a step backward for American clean energy," because it would override scientific findings, allow industries to pollute without oversight and "gut EPA's authority in the clean cars program."
Senators question ties to Gulf spill
Jackson also sought to link the resolution with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a move that drew criticism from some senators.
Undermining EPA's greenhouse gas tailpipe standards -- which were supported by the auto industry, environmentalists and states -- "seems questionable at any time," Jackson wrote. "But going back to a failed approach and deepening our oil addiction at the very moment a massive spill -- the largest environmental disaster in American history -- is devastating families and businesses and destroying our precious wetlands runs contrary to our national interests" (E&ENews PM, June 7).
Some senators said Jackson's remarks demonstrate how the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has been used to gain political advantage on a range of issues.
"The Gulf spill is being used as justification for everything on all sides of all issues these days," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "I don't know that there's a very clear line of logic that gets you from the Gulf spill to most of these conclusions."
Inhofe called Jackson's statement tying the resolution to the spill "pretty outrageous," adding, "They're exploiting it and some of the environmentalists are rejoicing as we speak."
Begich agreed that political rhetoric surrounding the oil spill has been overused by both sides. "I think people should be careful what they say and we shouldn't just throw stuff out there because it's an opportunity," he said. "The Gulf spill is a much bigger issue than that."