Lisa Murkowski pushed back against the White House on Wednesday on the eve of a Senate debate and vote on her resolution to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon.
The EPA is bound by law to regulate air pollutants, though it elected not to do so during the Bush administration, leading to a Supreme Court decision ordering the agency to do so.
The Senate has been unable to organize a consensus around climate change legislation and the EPA is threatening to act in early 2011. The White House has promised to veto Murkowski's resolution if it passes, arguing that the ongoing spill in the Gulf of Mexico is ample evidence of the country's need to break its addiction to fossil fuels.
"It's been kinda interesting the past, I guess, just several days, in terms of the comments that have come out from the administration... that somehow or other this whole issue of EPA regulation is tied up in the mess, the debacle down in the Gulf. I will tell you, I'm flabbergasted that they would be jumping to this conclusion," said Murkowski.
Robert Dillon, Murkowski's spokesman, said that the White House and environmental groups, in attacking Murkowski, are only alienating a potential ally.
Murkowski, a Republican from energy-rich Alaska, said she doesn't oppose addressing climate change but wants to do it right. But the longer the Senate delays action, the closer the planet gets to a point at which the atmospheric carbon concentration gets sucked into a vicious and unpredictable cycle.
"I don't think that we should be afraid to take the time to do it right, yet we get hung out to dry because, well, 'You haven't passed something. You haven't passed something.' And we need to keep working to make sure that we've got something," said Murkowski. "When you don't have a proposal, not one proposal, that has sixty members, tell me how [sic] you're going to get that passed, but what does that say to you if you don't have that level of support?"
Murkowski said she is only bringing her resolution to the floor because Democratic leadership has refused to allow her a vote on a more modest proposal that would bar the EPA from regulating stationary sources of carbon for one year, but would allow it to address mobile sources.
"I got shut down. I couldn't even get to the floor," she said of her September effort. Climate change politics cut across party lines. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, with an economy heavily dependent on coal, has had similar problems getting a vote for his two-year moratorium. On Tuesday, he announced he'd vote for Murkowski's resolution. Murkowski said she may have other support from Democrats, though they have been reluctant to go public. A vote will come Thursday afternoon following seven hours of debate.
Preventing the EPA from treating carbon as a pollutant does not make it any less of one. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said that he'd be voting against Murkowski's resolution because it ignores the science indicating the threat of climate change. "It's a science question. It's not a policy question," said Baucus.
As the congressional session has dragged on, the Senate has gotten further away from a climate change deal rather than closer. An effort organized by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) finally collapsed Tuesday when Graham said he'd vote against it and that no energy bill could get 60 votes this year. As Murkowski spoke to reporters Wednesday, Graham reversed himself and appeared with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) to back Lugar's energy bill.
Lugar's bill focuses on cutting foreign oil dependence mostly through vehicle fuel efficiency programs that extend current federal standards but with various waiver options. Long-term, predictable increases in fuel efficiency standards will encourage innovative technologies and lead to American job growth, said Lugar.
The bill calls for expanding nuclear power by increasing federal loan guarantees, retiring aging coal plants that don't comply with environmental regulations, and requiring federal buildings to exceed national standards when possible, thereby increasing taxpayer savings.
On Tuesday night, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a House leader on climate change legislation and co-author of Waxman-Markey, visited Senate colleagues to whip opposition to Murkowski's resolution. He said he was unsure of the outcome.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is working against it, too. "I've got my whip doing the numbers," said Reid on Tuesday. "It appears we're going to be OK, but we'll never know till the vote takes place."
If the EPA is blocked from acting, Congress will have less incentive to act, though Murkowski argued the chamber should move because it's the right thing to do, not because of a race with the EPA. Historically, of course, the Senate has rarely operated on the basis of right and wrong.
"The Senate is not sitting on its hands on discussion of climate proposals and various ideas that are out there," said Murkowski. "This is not easy stuff. If it was, we would have been able to pass something more quickly."