Republicans lashed out at the Obama administration yesterday for using the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for political purposes, signaling sharpening partisanship during a crucial period in which Democrats hope to build support for climate legislation.
That effort was clouded yesterday as the White House threatened to veto Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) resolution blocking U.S. EPA from regulating thousands of businesses that release carbon dioxide. Critics charge that the EPA rules will shock companies with new costs.
The White House punctuated its opposition to the resolution, to be considered by the Senate tomorrow, by claiming Murkowski's effort would weaken the government's ability to address environmental catastrophes, like the "ongoing BP oil spill."
A peeved Murkowski argued that the administration's "leap of logic," along with environmental groups' attacks linking her resolution with oiled wildlife, obscures her intent: to prevent a massive inflation of agency power that would drown jobs and hike energy prices.
"To have made this connection here that this resolution is all about the oil industry or the energy industry is just absolutely flawed," Murkowski said. "But what I think is happening is the administration and those who oppose me on this are looking to, I think, confuse the issue. I think they're doing a pretty good job of that."
"Stunning," she added of the president's veto threat, suggesting it was manufactured to exploit the spill. "What would he have said if the oil spill had not happened? So I don't know how they made that connect."
The White House Statement of Administration Policy issued yesterday leaned in part on the spill to make its case against Murkowski's "disapproval resolution." The White House document also asserts that stripping EPA of its obligations to address greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act would roll back new fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, which could save motorists $3,000 in fuel costs over the lifetime of future cars.
The resolution would also "undermine the Administration's efforts to reduce the negative impacts of pollution and the risks associated with environmental catastrophes, like the ongoing BP oil spill," the administration document adds. "As seen in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental disasters harm families, destroy jobs, and pollute the Nation's air, land and water."
'Every job' will be touched
The clash comes as President Obama has been increasingly citing the spreading spill as a key reason Congress should pass climate legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions. That could drive manufacturers, automakers and power companies to seek alternative fuel sources that don't incur carbon costs, he says.
There has been some criticism focused on Obama's use of the spill to advance climate legislation. But the most pointed attacks appear to have come yesterday in relation to EPA's looming carbon regulations. Republicans, like Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, described the administration's effort as an unparalleled power shift into the hands of unelected bureaucrats, "who just conjure things up."
"This type of approach will affect almost every job in America," Hatch said of the EPA regulations.
Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), who failed to win his state's nomination for the Republican primary this year, charged the administration with employing "a bait-and-switch political move."
"There is an attempt to turn the attention of the American people away from what's happening with respect to the oil spill and saying, 'What we really should be doing to protect the environment is give all of this new power to the EPA,'" he said, adding that it's an attempt to "assuage our sense of guilt over the oil spill by allowing the EPA to do this."
"There is no scientific and economic connection between the two at all," Bennett said. "Hopefully, we can be smart enough to not allow the administration get away with it."
Jobs created by climate bill?
Murkowski's resolution comes as action around climate legislation is peaking. EPA is expected to release its economic modeling of the sprawling bill introduced last month by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). The analysis could show the bill's ability to generate jobs, while also raising -- supporters hope slightly -- the price of electricity and gasoline.
"This is a very big moment in the Senate's consideration of energy and climate legislation," Lieberman said yesterday. "This is the most comprehensive, credible analysis of energy-climate legislation that's yet been done."
"I hope they'll say that our bill will, as other independent studies have done, will say that adoption of our bill over time will create millions of good new jobs," he added, noting that a "modest" increase in energy prices is expected.
"Will it cost some more? I'd be surprised if it doesn't. But adopting this bill is worth so much in savings, because we do break dependence on oil, we do clean up the air, and we're going to create millions of new jobs. I'm confident about the bill."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who co-authored early versions of the bill with Kerry and Lieberman, suggested yesterday that there's little hope the measure could attract 60 votes this year. He said he won't vote for the current legislation, because its provisions allowing offshore oil drilling have been weakened.
60 votes is for dreamers
Graham is working on an alternative bill that would focus on utility emissions but might not cap greenhouse gas output in the transportation sector. He suggested that effort could play out next year.
"That attack that's going to come to Kerry-Lieberman is that the fee that oil and gas companies will pay for the carbon they produce is going to be about a 13-cent-a-gallon increase," he told reporters, adding that most of that money will help soften the legislation's impact on electric utilities.
"So the transportation community is going to go bonkers when they hear they're going to have pay extra energy costs, and ... none of [the money], practically, goes to pay for roads and bridges."
Graham said it's unclear if Democratic leadership will allow Kerry-Lieberman to go to the floor as the central piece of legislation, or if portions of it would be added to an "energy only" bill without carbon prices.
But it probably doesn't matter, he said.
"I think nothing is going to get 60 votes."
Lieberman, meanwhile, pushed back on the notion that his and Kerry's bill would be trotted out to the floor as an amendment.
"Asking us to come on as an amendment somehow makes our part of it less important," he said. "And it's not. We have two big problems here: energy dependence and climate change. And basically, if you put them together -- the solutions to them together -- you do better at solving both problems, and you create more jobs."