Sen. Lisa Murkowski is full of contradictions when it comes to global warming.
At the National Energy Summit yesterday, where she appeared back to back with Mark Warner (D-Va.), the Alaska Republican declared:
"I believe that global warming is happening. I can see the effects on my home state." When it comes to the world taking action, she said, "the next 10 years could matter as much as the next 100 years."
Yet, today, Murkowski tried to bring an amendment to the Senate floor that would restrict the EPA's ability to regulate carbon emissions for at least the next year. The amendment didn't go to a vote, but it raised a heated debate as Murkowski defended it on the Senate floor, and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) vowed to bring it back.
The Murkowski amendment would effectively eliminate a powerful hammer hanging over Congress's head that has been encouraging lawmakers to take action on climate change this year.
That hammer is the EPA's finding that greenhouse gases pose a danger to human health and welfare. Once finalized, the endangerment finding will open a door to the EPA regulating power plant and industry carbon dioxide emissions.
Industry leaders would rather see clear direction and rules set by Congress than EPA's case-by-case approach. But if the threat of EPA action goes away, as Murkowski proposed, Congress would have little pressure to move quickly on climate.
On the Senate floor this afternoon, several Democrats spoke out against the amendment, even after it was clear that there would be no vote. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) called it a "dangerous amendment" that would "prevent the EPA from enforcing a law that protects the health of our children." Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) summed up many of the comments, saying Murkowski's effort sends the wrong message to the world by attempting to tie EPA's hands at the very time protecting against climate change is so important.
Warner also addressed Murkowski's proposed amendment during the Washington energy conference, sponsored by the Council on Competitiveness.
"The idea that we could have one more year of delay would be competitive, financial and environmental disaster," the Virginia senator said. "Simply putting off climate action would not only sacrifice America's leadership but also pass up leading the greatest wealth-creating sector of the next quarter century."
Further, he disagreed with Murkowski's assessment of the speed of the clean energy transition and long-term dependence on fossil fuels. She had said: "The transition to a low carbon economy is not going to happen as quickly as we would like. We are going to need oil and coal long into the future."
Warner compared the clean energy transition to wireless technology, which spread throughout the economy roughly twice as fast as predicted.
"On the innovation front, I disagree that this will take 30 to 50 years," he said. "Besides, it is not as if putting off action will make it any easier to address."
Rejecting the idea that climate legislation is a "job killer," as Murkowski suggested, Warner concluded, "we must support our greatest asset: the American entrepreneurs who innovate and develop clean energy technology."
Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, isn't opposed to all climate legislation. She helped push an energy bill through her committee earlier this year, though she made sure it would also add money for Alaska's natural gas pipeline, open up more off-shore drilling, and shrink the nation's renewable electricity target to 15 percent by 2021. At the conference, she explained what she was looking for in the larger climate bill.
In Murkowski's view, a climate bill must:
- Minimize cost;
- Generate emissions reductions that are effective, efficient and transparent;
- Be market-based not regulatory-based;
- Include provisions for international cooperation;
- Return revenues to the public;
- End patchwork regulations to provide investor certainty; and
- Include provisions for adaptation
That last bullet point is important to Alaska, where storm surges and melting permafrost pose a growing danger to infrastructure such as roads, buildings and oil pipelines.
The coastal community of Kivalina is a prime example. Thinning sea ice once protected it from surging seas that now slam into its buildings regularly. The Army Corps of Engineers has called the situation "dire," and the U.S. General Accounting Office has estimated relocating the community — the only option left — would cost $400 million.
Kivalina is suing energy companies to pay for its relocation. Other communities will need government help. Before they reach that point, they want Murkowski and Congress to start taking action to slow climate change.
Murkowski's amendment to an Interior Department fiscal 2010 appropriations bill was opposed by native leaders from her home state, as well as environmental organizations. More than 30 groups wrote to senators urging them to reject the amendment.
Sierra Club put its opposition this way:
"Senator Murkowski's amendment is a bailout for the country's largest polluters."
(Photo: Spc. Margaret J. Moonin/Alaska DMVA)