Deep-pocketed industries and polluters, already basking in this morning's Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for more corporate political influence, got more to smile about when Sen. Lisa Murkowski took the Senate floor this afternoon.
The Alaska Republican introduced a "resolution of disapproval" under the Congressional Review Act to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
Three Democrats — Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — joined her as co-sponsors. Lincoln, in announcing her support for the measure, called the EPA "heavy-handed" and criticized the current climate bills, which would have Congress write the ground rules for regulation; instead, she supports an energy bill that would expand off-shore drilling.
Environment supporters say Murkowski's resolution, if it succeeds, would undermine the EPA's ability to protect the public.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) described the resolution as an attempt "to brazenly overturn sound scientific work done by our nation's leading public health experts and prohibit the Environment Protection Agency from doing its job to protect the health and welfare of the American people."
"It is so extreme that it would legally overturn scientists' very conclusion, based on decades of scientific study, that greenhouse-gas emissions threaten public health and the environment, and it would have the effect of prohibiting the EPA from making the same conclusion in the future," Merkley wrote.
"It could block any action by the EPA to protect our families, our communities, and our economy from greenhouse-gas pollution."
The EPA is moving toward greenhouse gas regulation but has yet to take action. In December, it complied with a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring it to determine whether greenhouse gases posed a danger to human health and welfare, and if they did, to regulate. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson issued the agency's endangerment finding based on that court ruling last month.
Jackson has also started work on the ground rules for regulation, proposing a tailoring rule that would target greenhouse gas regulation to only the largest emitters, industrial facilities emitting more than 25,000 tons a year. When she announced that rule, Jackson warned:
"This is change. It's not easy. And we can't expect it to get easy in the months and years ahead. Defenders of the status quo are going to oppose this with everything they have."
And they did today.
Murkowski, in announcing the resolution, said she had 35 Republicans and three Democrats behind her resolution of disapproval.
The rarely used procedure can prohibit rules written by a federal agency from taking effect. In the Senate, the resolution is referred to the relevant committee; if the committee does not act within 20 days, it can be brought to the floor with a petition by 30 members. Either house could reject the resolution, and the president has veto power. However, Senate approval would likely have a chilling effect on climate action in Washington.
Follow the Money
Murkowski made a similar attempt to block the EPA through a budget amendment last fall, but the bill never reached a vote.
Reports in recent weeks have raised serious questions about the motivation behind that earlier effort. They have revealed deep involvement by the very industries the EPA would be regulating.
Two lobbyists, both former Bush administration officials now representing companies in those industries, closely guided the writing of Murkowski's earlier bill, the Washington Post reported. One of those lobbyists, Jeffery Holmstead, has represented energy companies that along with their employees and the firm have given at least $126,500 to Murkowski's campaigns since 2004, according research by Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington. It noted that on the companies, Southern Co., has donated $38,000 to Murkowski and owns the top three most-polluting power plants in the nation.
The three Democratic co-sponsors of the new resolution have also benefited from that group. The two lobbyists, their firms, and their climate legislation clients and their employees have been generous: Lincoln has directly received $139,766 from them, Landrieu has received $152,688, and Nelson has received $65,770, according to a Greenpeace review.
Last week, Greenpeace asked the Senate's Select Committee on Ethics to investigate the relationship between Murkowski and industry lobbyists. The public deserves to know if this situation is acceptable to the Senate, Greenpeace argued.
In Sen. Merkley's view, the move for the disapproval resolution is far from acceptable.
"Imagine if Congress always put the interests of polluters ahead of the health of our families," he wrote. "Our rivers and lakes would be choked with sewage. Acid rain would pour down from smog-filled skies. Hundreds of thousands more of our neighbors, friends, and loved ones would be victims of cancer, heart disease, and asthma.
"President Nixon — Nixon! — signed the EPA into law because even Republicans recognized that unchecked pollution was poisoning our people.
"Plainly put, this dangerous resolution has the best interest of big energy industries in mind, not the health and welfare of the American people or our environment, and not the clean energy job creation we urgently need right now."
Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica noted that Murkowski was turning away from the needs of the very people she was elected to represent: "Climate change threatens Alaska's economy, but instead of standing up for her state, Senator Murkowski is doing what the lobbyists want and trying to eliminate the strongest existing tool that could help solve the problem," he said.
This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court flung open the doors to even more political campaign largess from big industries when it overturned key provisions in the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The ruling allows corporations and labor unions to spend more freely on political ads, among other things.
President Obama called on Congress to begin work immediately on a "forceful response" to that ruling, saying "the public interest requires nothing less."
"The Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics. It is a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans," the president said.
"This ruling gives the special interests and their lobbyists even more power in Washington — while undermining the influence of average Americans who make small contributions to support their preferred candidates."
Survey Says ...
Luntz said the poll (results here) found:
"Americans want their leaders to act on climate change — but not necessarily for the reasons you think. A clear majority of Americans believe climate change is happening. This is true of McCain voters and Obama voters alike. And even those that don't still believe it is essential for America to pursue policies that promote energy independence and a cleaner, healthier environment.
"People are much more interested in seeing solutions than watching yet another partisan political argument," Luntz said.