On the heels of last week's Senate vote on U.S. EPA's regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, how will the Senate proceed with its climate negotiations? During today's OnPoint, E&E reporter Robin Bravender and former E&E senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn discuss the impact of last week's action on Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) disapproval resolution on the congressional climate debate.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today are E&E reporters Robin Bravender and Darren Samuelsohn. Robin, Darren, thanks for being here.
Robin Bravender: Thank you.
Darren Samuelsohn: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: Robin, coming off of the failure of Senator Murkowski's disapproval resolution, from a political standpoint, how helpful is it to senators that they didn't ultimately have to vote on whether to remove EPA's authority on regulating greenhouse gas emissions?
Robin Bravender: Well, I think most people would see it as a similar vote too, if they actually hadn't actually voted on whether or not to block EPA. It was a procedural motion to move toward actually voting on the resolution, but I think people see people's senators' decisions on that as an actual vote on the resolution itself.
Monica Trauzzi: And Darren, did the vote sort of help gauge how the Senate feels about the climate and energy package that we're going to see coming down the line in the next couple of weeks and ultimately should Democrats be optimistic that this sort of paints a more optimistic and rosy picture for them on legislation?
Darren Samuelsohn: It certainly got senators thinking about climate change for the first time, arguably as a whole body, in about two years, almost to the tee since the Lieberman-Warner debate back in 2008. So you had senators debating it, talking about it, thinking about the fact that these EPA regulations are coming and it smoked out some of the swing vote senators who have been reluctant to talk about climate change, have been reluctant to answer questions from reporters about where they are on it. So, you saw on the floor a number of senators from Susan Collins and even Maria Cantwell, who's a sponsor of a bill, but you saw her talking about where the Congress should be going on climate legislation and, ultimately, then you did have a vote where six Democrats clearly said that they would prefer not to see EPA regulating greenhouse gas emissions, which kind of shows that they could potentially be the hardest votes to be getting for a climate bill and then the Republicans all banded together, which is a pretty strong sign that they are, at least for the moment, going to work in lockstep with the leadership, whether or not a couple of them will break off is the question.
Monica Trauzzi: Were there are any surprises with how the votes shook out?
Darren Samuelsohn: There was a couple of interesting surprises, seeing Jim Webb actually vote against the resolution. You know, he's someone who everyone kind of has assumed would probably be one of the hardest votes to get, went with the Democratic leadership, so that was interesting. Robert Byrd was another interesting example of voting against the resolution. He's someone who obviously goes against, where Jay Rockefeller, who was pretty clearly wanting cosponsoring…or not cosponsoring, but announcing early on that he was going to support Murkowski, seeing the two West Virginia senators kind of go in different directions.
Monica Trauzzi: And turn the floor debate many senators tried to link the oil spill to the climate negotiations. Did they do so successfully and do you expect that this will be the trend moving forward?
Darren Samuelsohn: It's certainly going to be the goal of the Democratic leadership and President Obama to use the oil spill and, as Rahm Emanuel likes to say, never waste a crisis. I mean this is an opportunity for the public who is watching the images of what's happening on the Gulf Coast to get the public thinking about climate change and thinking about energy policy. I mean there's been a backlash, of course, from Republicans who are like how can you actually make this connection and try and capitalize on what they're calling the national energy tax? So, you know, some Republicans have been very turned off by the linkage. You're also probably going to see, as the Democrats are pounding on big oil the moderates are going to be kind of wondering why their leadership is trying to make this into such a hard and fast debate on big oil, for or against. And there's going to be some uncomfortable senators on both sides of the aisle watching this vote now.
Monica Trauzzi: Robin, does the no vote on the Murkowski resolution put a sufficient amount of pressure on Congress to move forward?
Robin Bravender: We saw a lot of senators yesterday come out on the floor and say we are in favor of action by Congress to either block EPA or to move forward with a climate bill. Some of them might back a cap and trade or an energy bill. Obviously, others might move forward with additional efforts just aimed at blocking EPA. Senator Rockefeller has a two-year delay bill proposed and several senators have said that they would back that to stop EPA's stationary source regulations for two years. Senators Carper and Casey are also working on an alternative that might codify rule from EPA that would limit stationary source regulations to the biggest emitters and they might offer that as an effort to limit EPA regulations.
Monica Trauzzi: Has Senate leadership indicated whether they might want to move forward with either of those proposals?
Robin Bravender: We're hearing from the Senate that in order to get some moderate Democrats to vote against the Murkowski resolution yesterday that they would offer a vote on the Rockefeller bill. So we might see that coming up soon, a vote on the two-year delay.
Monica Trauzzi: OK. Darren, what's the latest with the Kerry-Lieberman bill and how quickly might we see that move its way through the Senate and how many changes are we actually going to see in order to get to those 60 votes?
Darren Samuelsohn: Well, the Kerry-Lieberman bill is a product of the last nine months of negotiations, but really now I think everything is on the table. That's what we've been hearing, and that they're kind of going for like a buffet strategy, trying to pick pieces from the Kerry-Lieberman bill, take pieces from the Bingaman Energy and Natural Resources Committee bill, pieces from the Cantwell-Collins bill, pieces from the Lugar bill that came out just last week. So you have all these different pieces of the puzzle that they're now going to try and stitch together into a bill that can get 60 votes. You're going to have all 59 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus meeting this week on Thursday to talk about energy and where they should go. And that meeting will be a pretty critical moment for Harry Reid to sort of look at where his caucus is and then they're going to have to start reaching out to some Republicans in trying to figure out can they get about three to five to six Republicans to actually go along, counting on a couple of Democrats to probably not support this and, of course, how much does President Obama actually lean into this as opposed to just talking about it here and there and kind of slipping it into speeches about other stuff. You know, John Holdren had mentioned a couple weeks back that there was going to be some sort of big President Obama speech on energy, a major speech on energy. We're still waiting to find out if that's going to happen, when that's going to happen. Is Obama going to be bringing senators to the White House to actually start negotiating?
Monica Trauzzi: Robin, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has been criticized about the role she's been playing in the climate discussions and, in particular, what Congress should be doing. She took heat for a recent op-ed in the Huffington Post where she basically linked a yes vote on the Murkowski resolution to support of big oil and the U.S.'s dependence on oil. Has Jackson really stepped out from the traditional role that we've seen EPA administrators play in the past and what's her working strategy here and how different is that from what we've seen?
Robin Bravender: We have seen Administrator Jackson step out very strongly against this Murkowski resolution. She has been the most vocal member of the administration since the beginning, saying that she had concerns that this would upend EPA's auto rule that would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from tailpipes. And she did link that to the oil spill, saying that it would increase our dependence on oil and, therefore, could result in other catastrophes like the Gulf oil spill, in terms of past administrators.
Darren Samuelsohn: I mean in terms of past administrators, I just think about how Christie Whitman came under a lot of fire after 9/11 for saying that the air quality down at Ground Zero was okay for the rescue workers and that created a huge firestorm. And then there was Stephen Johnson who kind of stayed away from Congress and he was under a lot of heat during the last couple years of the Bush administration where anytime he went up there he was facing some heated questions and, ultimately, just stopped going to Capitol Hill to testify. You know, Lisa Jackson is a native of New Orleans, so you've seen her go down there a couple of times. She's got, I guess, a personal stake I would have to say in seeing what happens in the environmental cleanup in the Gulf Coast. She's made several trips down there. She's also a former engineer and a former scientist. If she's a scientist though, I think that her background probably lends itself to being engaged in the process.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Thank you both for coming on the show. And, Darren, good luck to you on your new endeavor.
Darren Samuelsohn: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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