A storm of Republican protest is erupting over the Environmental Protection Agency's finding that greenhouse gases pose a public danger, with the latest wave coming from a state among those most at risk from the effects of climate change.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of the party's rising stars, launched a letter-writing offensive from Baton Rouge this week to protest the possibility of EPA regulation that the finding now allows. His own letter focuses on the economic dislocation he says such regulation might bring; it doesn't mention the economic threats climate change poses to costal communities and cities like New Orleans.
The letters from Jindal and the secretaries of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and Louisiana Economic Development joined letters sent by the executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission and the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality in previous weeks. They also echo letters from the governor of Texas and an outcry from GOP congressional figures, most notably Alaska's Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Joe Barton of Texas.
Once Congress returns from recess, Murkowski has said she plans to introduce a so-called "disapproval" resolution in the Senate. The goal is to veto the EPA's endangerment finding — and the authority to regulate greenhouse gases that results from that finding. Barton has joined with other Republican congressmen to introduce a parallel resolution in the House.
"I remain committed to reducing emissions through a policy that will protect our environment and strengthen our economy, but EPA's backdoor climate regulations achieve neither of those goals," Murkowski said in announcing her decision to challenge the agency's finding.
"EPA regulation must be taken off the table so that we can focus on more responsible approaches to dealing with global climate change."
Jindal focused on the economic impacts to his state's heavily fossil fuel-dependent economy. He says new regulations that could follow the endangerment finding could damage his state's economy to such an extent that the "energy supply, fuel prices and energy security for the entire country" could be impacted. The rules could also cause a dislocation of jobs and industry, he argued.
"These EPA's proposed regulations [sic] will tangentially force commercial, industrial and major agricultural employers to spend less money on labor, thereby further reducing employment during these already tough economic times. Worse, Louisiana and the entire country will likely lose industry to other countries without an increased benefit to the environment," Jindal writes, explaining that industry may relocate to countries with more lax environmental standards.
But the letters, points out Haywood Martin of the Sierra Club's Delta Chapter, "give no consideration to the serious problems that human caused climate change pose for Louisiana's citizens, its economy, and its efforts to protect its coast."
The EPA's finding does not itself automatically include any greenhouse gas regulations. In fact, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, a New Orleans native, said in announcing the finding that the agency and the White House would prefer that Congress take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions instead. But the finding does open the door for the EPA to regulate as long as its authority to do so is not preempted by regulations passed by Congress.
Martin says the EPA "is right to act to protect the country and its citizens," but that "regulation is a cumbersome and inefficient process." He would prefer to see action taken in the U.S. Senate and state governments.
"Louisiana would be acting in its own interest and in the national interest to do so," he says.
The finding was announced Dec. 7, the first day of the Copenhagen climate talks. This timing was seen as a smart diplomatic move by environmental groups and others wondering how the Obama administration would navigate the two-level game of negotiating an international agreement on a topic about which the domestic debate is still ongoing. Murkowski considered it a political ploy.
"The administration introduced the endangerment finding the week before the president traveled to Copenhagen, instead of working with Congress to find a bipartisan solution to the nation's climate and energy challenges," says Murkowski's statement on seeking to veto the EPA finding.
Climate legislation had been on the table for months, however, and though the House passed its version of the bill in June — including a provision to preempt EPA regulation greenhouse gases — the Senate bill was still delayed, largely due to protests from Republicans and coal-state centrist Democrats, as Copenhagen kicked off.
Aside from his concern about the Louisiana economy, Jindal's campaign against the EPA rule could be tied to his previous campaigns against the Recovery Act's stimulus money, his opposition to which many analysts have speculated was meant to better set himself up for a run at the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.
A Double-Edged Sword for Louisiana
In his letter, Louisiana DEQ Secretary Hal Legget says,
"The fuel crises which nearly paralyzed the country with the Louisiana landfalls of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike in the recent years clearly illustrated the significance of this base in Louisiana and its impact on the energy lifeline upon which America depends."
This demonstrates the double-edged sword that climate change presents to a state like Louisiana, both dependent on the fossil fuel industry and all too vulnerable to extreme weather events and rising seas. These letters, however, focus heavily on the former — the prospect of economic dislocation rather than climate change-related dislocation.
Martin notes the irony of mentioning Hurricane Katrina.
"While Louisiana asks the federal government for $100 billion in coastal assistance, the entire congressional delegation voted against the recently passed House energy legislation (Waxman–Markey), and now the state expresses outright opposition to regulation under the Clean Air Act," Martin said.
"Louisiana is one of the top carbon emissions producing states, and should be leading, not obstructing the transition to a clean energy economy."
Congressional Action vs. EPA Regulation
Murkowski's opposition to the specter of EPA regulation is longstanding. Separately from the endangerment ruling challenge, she will take a second shot at banning the EPA from working on emissions restrictions by attempting to attach an amendment to legislation increasing the government's debt ceiling, which the Senate will debate next month. Her first try at such an amendment, in September, did not even go to a vote.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has joined with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to create a bipartisan climate bill, has said he will nonetheless co-sponsor Murkowski's disapproval resolution because he feels EPA regulation would be the worst option.
Though it is possible that legislation vetoing the endangerment finding could pass the Senate, it is more doubtful that it would pass the House, where Democrats hold a larger majority. It is also unlikely President Obama would sign such a law, nor that it could get the two-thirds majority in each house needed to override a presidential veto.
The Union of Concerned Scientists terms this opposition a "distraction".
"Senators should be spending their time and energy putting solutions on the table, not throwing wrenches into the works at EPA," says Lexi Shultz, deputy director of UCS's Climate and Energy Program. "The best way for senators to address their concerns about EPA authority is to pass their own climate and energy bill."
Noted climate-change denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has said he doubts the legislation could make it through, but that he expects lawsuits will succeed in overturning the EPA's finding.
Just hours after the EPA's Dec. 7 announcement the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute announced its intention to file suit to challenge the decision "on the grounds that EPA has ignored major scientific issues, including those raised recently in the Climategate fraud scandal." The later refers to the hacking of scientists' personal emails at a British university.
Last Wednesday, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, concerned about the economic impacts of new regulations to farmers and ranchers, joined with Massey Energy and others to file a petition in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals to challenge the EPA decision.
The EPA's decision is, in fact, already based on a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court in 2007 that required the agency to look into whether greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. This mandate was ignored for the last two years of the Bush administration before the final finding was announced this month.
Now, Jindal says, "Simply, the EPA's proposed regulations will cast unknown penalties on American manufacturers without Congressional input. In today's economic climate, one of the greatest threats to industry and jobs is the unknown, and there will not be sustainable growth without predictability."
Large companies like Nike, Sempra Energy and Starbucks, however, have said the problem is the uncertainty regarding future regulations and they hope regulations are in place sooner rather than later so they can plan accordingly. The threat of EPA regulation, or the Congressional regulation it may help spur Congress toward, would go a long way toward filling in those unknowns.
(Photos: Murkowski, Alaska DMVA; Jindal, Office of Louisiana Governor)