Dirty Air Act Vote Tests Senate’s Direction on Climate, Clean Energy
On June 10, the Senate votes on a “resolution of disapproval” to limit federal action on climate change by blocking the EPA’s ability under the Clean Air Act to limit emissions from big polluters.
The resolution, which has 41 co-sponsors, was introduced in January by Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, one of the largest Congressional recipients of campaign donations from the oil and utility industries, according to federal election records. Senator Murkowski’s resolution – S.J.R. 26 – would overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s formal scientific finding on December 7, 2009 that carbon dioxide and the other climate-changing pollutants endanger human health and the environment.
The EPA’s “endangerment finding,” introduced at the start of the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen last year was saluted by climate advocates and government officials around the world. The finding made it legally possible to use the Clean Air Act, the nation’s primary air pollution statute, to set and enforce new manufacturing practices and emissions limits that tamed the U.S. contribution to global climate change.
Test of The Senate
Senator Murkowski says Congress should be the one authorizing carbon reductions, though she has displayed no interest in supporting any of the Congressional proposals to do just that. Moreover, her conservative supporters contend that using the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions is a regulatory overreach by big government. “Every sector of our economy — transportation, power generation and manufacturing — would be subjected to EPA’s bureaucratic reach,” said Tom Borelli director of the Free Enterprise Project at the National Center for Public Policy Research.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has moved to put the endangerment finding and its Clean Air Act authority into effect. In April the administration issued trend-setting fuel mileage and emissions standards for light vehicles that the agency said would save 1.8 billion barrels of oil and 900 million tons of carbon emissions from 2012 to 2016. The United Autoworkers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures oppose the resolution of disapproval because it would unravel the historic agreement struck between labor, industry and environmentalists on these new fuel efficiency standards.
Endangerment Finding Put to Use
The administration has also made plain its intention to use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions from some 7,000 industrial installations – refineries, utilities, manufacturers, mining sites – but leave small businesses alone.
Though the Murkowski resolution would have to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the president to take effect, events considered unlikely anytime soon, the vote on June 10 is seen as a crucial test of Congressional urgency on energy and climate issues. The vote, scheduled for Thursday night, also comes as President Obama and Senate Majority Leader display new resolve to tackle climate and energy legislation, and as oil from the BP Gulf Catastrophe reaches beaches in four states.
U.S. climate and clean energy organizations anticipated Senator Murkowski’s challenge and began building support in January to defeat the resolution, which they called the “Dirty Air Act.” Among the allies in the campaign were dozens of health groups, environmental organizations, labor unions, governors, state officials, President Obama, and EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
Newspaper editorialists also weighed in, noting that the BP Gulf Spill has made it more urgent than ever to curtail the myriad hazards of America’s addiction to oil. “Murkowski plans to offer a resolution,” said the Washington Post on June 7, “making it less likely we move away from fossil fuels, making it less likely we act to prevent a foreseeable catastrophe (in this case, global warming) from occurring, blocking regulators from doing their jobs, and disrupting one of our best opportunities to prevent climate change rather than scramble to respond after its incalculable effects rip through our atmosphere.”
In an article on Monday for the Huffington Post, EPA Administrator Jackson said the Murkowski resolution “abdicates the responsibility we have to move the country forward in a way that creates jobs, increases our security by breaking our dependence on foreign oil, and protects the air and water we rely on.”