The Murkowski Paradox: Not a Climate Denier but Still a Threat to EPA

Alaska Senator's long-shot write-in candidacy annoys Republican leadership

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WASHINGTON—Until Lisa Murkowski announced her intent to keep her Senate seat by mounting a write-in candidacy, the Alaska Republican’s name likely was rarely—if ever—mentioned in the same breath as Strom Thurmond. That could change Nov. 2.

If Murkowski can overcome two challengers and the lack of support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, she would be just the second successful Senate write-in candidate ever and the first since South Carolina’s Thurmond in 1954.

“Let’s make history!” announces Murkowski’s re-election Web site, which refers to her Friday night decision to compete as a write-in Republican in her “campaign for Alaska’s future.”

“Thousands of Alaskans from across the state have reached out to me and encouraged me to stay in this race,” she continues. “On November 2nd you will have a choice. If you stand by me I will stand by you.”

Organization such as Republicans for Environmental Protection are cheering the moderate Murkowski’s decision to take on political rookie Joe Miller, the Kansas native, Persian Gulf War veteran, judge and Yale Law School graduate who caught her off guard during the Aug. 24 primary. Miller, endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, is one in a long string of climate change deniers vying for Senate seats coast-to-coast.

“Miller touts his Yale education but he hasn’t come to grips with basic science,” David Jenkins, government affairs director with the environmental organization, told SolveClimate News in a Monday interview. “The fact that he denies the human impact on climate, that type of closed-mindedness doesn’t bode well.”

Jenkins also points out that Miller appears to confuse ozone and carbon dioxide when commenting about global warming.

“The whole idea of stewardship seems to be tossed out the window. You never hear one word about that from “tea party” people,” Jenkins says, adding that they don’t seem to draw the lines between national security and how individuals use energy resources. “Their attitude is, ‘I should be able to do whatever the heck I want to’ … and that’s not conservative.”

Murkowski, considered a potential swing vote on climate legislation, is by no means a climate denier. She acknowledges the toll global warming is taking on her home state’s economy and ecology.

“She has acknowledged that climate change is a real problem and that humans have some role in that,” Jenkins points out. “And that’s a much better place to start than with someone who is not there yet.”

“Mainstream” Republicans Not on Board

Write-in challenges are known to be uphill slogs because voters have to do more than check a box, but Jenkins said name recognition could favor Murkowski in her bid for a third term.

Her father, Frank Murkowski, is a former U.S. senator who appointed her in 2002 to fill out his term after he won the Alaska governorship. But Palin defeated him in the 2006 governor’s race.

Some Democrats think a Miller-Murkowski contest leaves an opening for their candidate, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams. Republican leadership, however, seems nothing but annoyed about Murkowski’s inability to accept defeat after the primary.

“Alaska’s voters have spoken, and have chosen Joe Miller as their Republican U.S. Senate nominee,” communications director Brian Walsh writes in a statement posted on the National Republican Senatorial Committee Web site. “If Senator Murkowski is truly committed to doing ‘what is right’ for her state, then we hope that she will step forward and fully endorse Joe Miller’s candidacy. No matter what Senator Murkowski decides for her own political interests in the future, Republicans are united behind Joe Miller’s nomination, and we are confident that he will be elected Alaska’s next U.S. Senator in November.”

More Climate Mischief in the Making?

Interestingly enough, the day before Murkowski announced her write-in decision from the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, her Senate staff circulated a news release publicizing new legislation to honor the late Sen. Ted Stevens by naming a mountain and part of an ice field after him.

Buried within the release was this comment:

“Murkowski, the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, had planned to introduce the Stevens bill at Thursday’s markup (Sept. 16) of the Department of Interior annual budget but the markup was canceled for unrelated reasons.”

Indeed, the Senate Appropriations Committee opted not to mark up or vote on the fiscal 2011 spending package for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department because of the fear that Murkowski or senators from other fossil fuel states would attach a measure intended to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases via the Clean Air Act.

In a statement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, attributed the delay to a last-minute $100 million amendment pitched by the Obama administration. That amendment had to do with reorganization of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, known as the Minerals Management Service before the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A vote on EPA and Interior appropriations bills has not yet been rescheduled.

Recently, environmental organizations have collaborated numerous times to fend off efforts by Murkowski and other senators to block EPA’s climate regulations.

Jenkins emphasizes that his organization, Republicans for Environmental Protection, is equally frustrated with attempts by Murkowski and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to handcuff the EPA—especially when the Senate has dropped the ball on any type of climate legislation.

“If you think climate change is a big problem and can’t see when the Senate would act and what they would do, why would you tie the EPA’s hands to act?” he asks. “It’s like throwing your toolbox out he window on the way to a job site.”

“Before you tinker with EPA’s authority, you need to know the context of legislation,” he concludes. “And without legislation on the table and by trying to stop EPA, you’re basically saying you don’t want (that agency) to do anything about climate change.”

(Photo: Hannes Grobe)

See Also

Is Murkowski’s Loss an Omen of a Coming Tilt toward Climate Denialism?

Murkowski’s Bid to Repeal Science and Block EPA Fails in U.S. Senate: 53 to 47