Democrats slam effort to block EPA from regulating emissions

Agency’s recent finding that greenhouse gas pollution endangers public health and welfare is the independent work of scientists and "should stand on its own," Democrats say.

Senate Environment and Public Works Democrats Tuesday unanimously pressed other senators to oppose the effort of Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

"Debating policy choices regarding the appropriate response to unchecked climate change is fair, and the Senate will continue to evaluate the best tools for addressing greenhouse gas emissions, but repealing an endangerment finding based upon years of work by America's scientists and public health experts is not appropriate," the 12 Democrats wrote Tuesday to Senate colleagues.

The Democrats referred to EPA's recent finding that greenhouse gas pollution endangers public health and welfare. "The independent work of scientists and public health experts from both the Bush and Obama administrations should stand on its own," the Democrats wrote.

Murkowski Tuesday said she is still considering whether to offer an amendment to legislation expected to be considered in the full Senate Jan. 20 that increases the debt limit; an amendment to other legislation; or a resolution citing disapproval of EPA's efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.

"I really need to kind of figure out the pros and cons of a one-year timeout versus moving forward with a resolution of disapproval," Murkowski said. "They both have their advantages and disadvantages."

Murkowski might offer language echoing an amendment she tried to offer in September to the fiscal 2010 Interior-Environment Appropriations bill, which Democrats blocked her from offering, that would have restricted EPA for one year from regulating carbon dioxide. But her spokesman, Robert Dillon, said there are several drafts of language that are being considered, including a one-year ban.

A potential pitfall to offering an amendment would be that Democrats would try to modify it or offer their own. Democrats may offer "tailoring" language limiting EPA regulations to facilities that emit at least 25,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. This was an amendment drafted by Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in case Murkowski was able to offer her amendment to the Interior spending bill in September.

A senior aide to Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer said Democrats are preparing an alternative in case Murkowski offers something. While they are looking at Feinstein's amendment as a starting point, a Democratic alternative has not been finalized, the aide added.

One potential problem with offering a disapproval resolution that could be expedited in the Senate is that "the process is more allowable here on the Senate side then it is on the House side" to offer such a resolution, Murkowski said.

Environmental groups have made defeating Murkowski's efforts a top priority, arguing that her efforts have been literally underwritten by energy industry lobbyists, including former senior Bush administration EPA officials.

"Rarely do we see evidence that senators are becoming stenographers," said Clean Air Watch President Frank O'Donnell, who said Murkowski is "essentially taking dictation from lobbyists for some of the biggest polluters in town."

Murkowski responded, "What you're seeing now is the environmental community is just in a tailspin over this legislation, and they're throwing out any red herring that they possibly can."

Murkowski said she has consulted with Clean Air Act experts as well as environmental groups.

"It's part of the legislative process, where you reach out and you kind of vet the language, and that's exactly what we did," Murkowski said.

David Doniger, climate policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former EPA director of climate change policy in the Clinton administration, said he and representatives from other environmental groups met with Murkowski's staff last fall after she tried to offer her amendment to the Interior spending bill.

"It was kind of a post-mortem offer on the part of several environmental groups to work with her," Doniger said, noting that offer of a dialogue is still open.

These groups have supported efforts to simply offer Feinstein's tailoring language. But Murkowski aides say that is not an option.