Senate Democratic leaders have promised to offer a vote on a bid to limit U.S. EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gases in hopes of draining support from a more sweeping EPA curb on the floor today, a Democratic Senate aide said.
During the run-up to today's vote on a proposal by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would prohibit EPA from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, Democratic leaders promised a vote on a narrower bill from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to impose a time-out for two years on EPA rules aimed at industrial emitters.
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to comment.
Rockefeller, who announced this week that he would vote for the Murkowski resolution, has said that he favors his narrower approach over Murkowski's more sweeping measure, which the Obama administration has warned will undo EPA's greenhouse gas emission limits for cars. The West Virginia Democrat has several moderate Democratic co-sponsors, several of whom announced yesterday that they would likely oppose Murkowski's resolution in favor of Rockefeller's.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) said yesterday he was leaning against voting for the Murkowski resolution in favor of the two-year delay. "I expect we'll be having a vote on the Rockefeller bill," he said. "Not this week, but I expect there will be a vote on it."
Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who are also co-sponsoring the Rockefeller bill, also announced yesterday that they would oppose the Murkowski amendment.
"There is a serious alternative, which is the Rockefeller approach to have a delay for two years, which I do support," Conrad said.
Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) signed on yesterday as the bill's sixth co-sponsor. "I think it's an appropriate way for us to be able to clearly have a clear expression of congressional intent when it goes to the areas that are outside the Supreme Court holding," Webb said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 decision that gave EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
Brown, Collins endorse Murkowski
Meanwhile, Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown and Maine Sen. Susan Collins -- two of three GOP senators who did not formally sign on as co-sponsors of Murkowski's resolution -- announced today they would vote for the measure.
"While many of my colleagues have argued that giving the EPA the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is the answer to our energy problems, I disagree," Brown wrote in an op-ed published today in the Cape Cod Times.
"This action would give an un-elected and unaccountable government agency the power to impose restrictive and damaging carbon dioxide regulations that will drive up energy prices and hurt job-creating small businesses in our country."
Collins also announced she would back the measure, saying she has "serious concerns about un-elected government officials at the EPA taking on this complicated issue instead of Congress."
Murkowski has 40 co-sponsors for her resolution, including three Democrats. She would need 51 votes to pass her resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which provides special procedures for vetoing agency rules. The White House has threatened to veto the measure if it makes it to the president's desk.
EPA regs under fire as debate begins
Senate Republicans today launched an assault over EPA's climate rules as debate got under way on Murkowski's measure, while a new poll signaled broad public support for federal efforts to curb greenhouse gases.
"The sweeping powers being pursued by the EPA are the worst possible option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions," Murkowski said today. She and other Senate Republicans today decried EPA's greenhouse gas rules, which are slated to kick in next January.
"This approach should have been taken off the table long ago," Murkowski said. "And yet, because the EPA is determined to move forward aggressively -- and because neither Congress nor the administration has acted to stop them -- it is now in the process of becoming our nation's de facto climate policy."
Meanwhile, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows most Americans support EPA rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Of those surveyed, 71 percent said they think the federal government should regulate the heat-trapping emissions from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to reduce global warming. Most Democrats and independents said they strongly favor new controls, and 55 percent of Republicans said they would favor such rules.
Still, Murkowski and her supporters insist that greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act will impose overwhelming costs and regulatory burdens across the country.
"Imposing new taxes and mandates in the United States will hurt our already struggling economy," said Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio). "We must address this issue through targeted policies that incentivize multinational collaboration on the development and deployment of clean energy technologies."
Democrats return fire
Senate Democrats, meanwhile, blasted what they portrayed as efforts to undermine EPA's scientific finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare.
Murkowski's resolution would nullify EPA's "endangerment" finding, the determination that allows EPA to move forward with regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions from mobile and stationary sources.
"I believe it's ridiculous for politicians, elected senators, to make this scientific decision," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
"What are we going to do next, repeal the laws of gravity?" Boxer said. "We start down this path, there's no end in sight."
Top attorneys from 11 states and New York City are also urging the Senate to oppose Murkowski's resolution. In a letter sent yesterday to Senate leadership, the attorneys warned of "major negative consequences" if the resolution were to pass, which include the unraveling of EPA's auto standards, eliminating backup rules if Congress fails to act and inhibiting EPA from studying the effects of climate change.
The letter was sent by the Democratic attorneys general from Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont and New York City's corporation counsel.
Click here to read the state and city attorneys' letter to Senate leadership.
Want to read more stories like this?
E&E is the leading source for comprehensive, daily coverage of environmental and energy politics and policy.
Click here to start a free trial to E&E -- the best way to track policy and markets.