CLIMATE

Murkowski floats plan to force Senate vote on cap and trade next week

Aides to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are considering forcing a floor vote next week on a Democrat-sponsored climate bill to prove that the legislation is doomed to fail.

Murkowski has been given a green light to offer an amendment next week on U.S. EPA climate regulations when the Senate considers legislation to raise the federal debt ceiling. One option under consideration is offering the cap-and-trade climate bill authored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), which cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in November.

"Boxer-Kerry is a non-starter, and the amendment -- if that's what it said -- it would expose that," said Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon. "We obviously don't want to pass the bill; we're confident that it would fail."

Holding a vote on the Kerry-Boxer bill would "show the sense of the Senate, where it is," Dillon said.

Murkowski, the ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a vocal opponent of EPA climate regulations, has not yet decided what avenue she will take to attempt to block EPA rules on regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Other options under consideration include proposing a one-year hiatus for EPA stationary source regulations or a disapproval resolution that would effectively veto EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare and block all EPA climate rules.

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Introducing the Kerry-Boxer bill as an amendment is "just one of a number of options that we've kicked around," Dillon said.

Under the unanimous consent agreement allowing Murkowski to bring up the EPA climate issue, any amendment to the debt ceiling bill would need 60 votes for passage.

Several observers off Capitol Hill said a vote on the Kerry-Boxer bill could provide a gauge of Senate support for climate legislation.

"It seems like an intriguing strategy to take a barometric reading on the Kerry-Boxer bill," said Scott Segal, an industry attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani.

"It would certainly highlight the lack of support that they'll have," said Andrew Wheeler, former Republican staff director for the Environment and Public Works Committee who now works for B&D Consulting, adding that he doesn't believe there is majority support for that bill in the Senate.

Environmentalists said such a move would amount to a political stunt and would not offer an accurate reading of Senate support for climate legislation.

"What she's trying to do is force Democrats to vote against a bill that is clearly one that is not ripe to be brought to the Senate floor," said Daniel Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, noting that the bill was intended to be combined with an energy bill aimed at lowering energy costs and spurring investments in technology.

"This is Lisa Murkowski giving the finger to those who believe we need to reduce global warming pollution because this is not a serious proposal," Weiss said.

Environmental groups remain steadfast in their belief that EPA ought to get moving to tackle global warming emissions in the absence of a climate bill.

"We think the EPA is moving forward in a reasonable course and that time is of the essence to tackle this problem, and we would push back on any delay allowing EPA to implement the Supreme Court decision," said Joe Mendelson, global warming policy director for the National Wildlife Federation.

Enviros call for investigation into lobbyist ties

Also today, environmentalists called on the Senate to investigate the role that coal and oil lobbyists played in crafting a version of an amendment to limit EPA climate regulations that Murkowski offered last fall (E&E Daily, Jan. 12).

PolluterWatch, a branch of Greenpeace, sent a letter today to Boxer asking for an inquiry from the Senate Ethics Committee into the relationship between Murkowski's staff and the former George W. Bush administration officials who advised the senator's office on the amendment.

"We are concerned that top Bush Administration EPA officials, now employed as high-priced coal, utility and oil lobbyists, had a strong hand in crafting the language of Senator Lisa Murkowski's proposed amendment to strip authority from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act," the letter says.

Boxer and the other Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee sent a letter to their colleagues yesterday urging them to vote against any effort by Murkowski to limit EPA's climate regulations (Greenwire, Jan. 12).

Murkowski today defended herself against the reports, saying that her staff consulted a variety of outside experts, including environmentalists, as well as Republican and Democratic lawmakers, when drafting that amendment. "Is that lobbyists drafting a bill? Absolutely not," Murkowski said.

Click here to read Greenpeace's letter to Boxer.

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