Nothing in D.C. should really surprise me anymore. But this week, my staff pointed me to Senator Lisa Murkowski's cynical and misdirected op-ed piece attempting to justify her assault on the Clean Air Act. The Senator's justification for her "Dirty Air Act" -- Senate resolution (S.J. Res. 26), scheduled for a vote later this week -- really galled me.
After all, this is coming from a politician who has received more than $900,000 from the oil and gas and electrical utility industries during the course of her career. She is the third-leading recipient of oil industry money in this election cycle and -- in the shadow of our country's largest oil spill and one of the worst environmental disasters in American history -- she led the charge last month against raising the cap on liability costs for companies responsible for oil spills. This is a senator who, at the very least, has a metaphorical district office in the corporate headquarters of some of the biggest polluters in the world.
But, despite knowing all of this about Murkowski, the nerve of the pure spin and misdirection she put out in an attempt to justify her efforts to gut the most effective environmental law ever passed in this country was infuriating.
Murkowski's piece boiled down to two key points (once you get through the "bipartisanship" window dressing that her communications professionals used to make her arguments seem less extreme and less like a love letter to the fossil fuel industry):
1. The EPA will run amok and ruin our economy by going after small business and unfairly reigning in large companies.
2. There is another perfectly good alternative - the "energy only" bill that advanced through Senator Jeff Bingaman's Natural Resources Committee last summer but has been held up since then.
The first argument is a tired old refrain that we hear from industry every time we make significant progress forward on environmental issues. It has been refuted again and again. The Obama administration has been very consistent in saying that the Clean Air Act will only be used to increase fuel mileage standards in vehicles, and crack down on the oldest, dirtiest coal plants. The only people who have to worry about Clean Air Act enforcement are those who own coal plants or those who don't want our country to save an estimated 455 million barrels of oil over the next six years - the amount of oil equivalent to letting the BP disaster gush at the same rate for 65 years. Using scare tactics to convince Americans that a gang of bureaucratic thugs will kick in the doors to measure for carbon is sinking to a new low that should be unbecoming of a United States senator.
But Senator Murkowski's second main argument is almost more damaging, because it gives the average reader the impression that there is a perfectly good bill waiting in the wings that will solve our climate and energy crisis. The truth is that, while the Bingaman bill would do a lot of things, most of them are pretty bad.
Shockingly, the Bingaman bill allows increased offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, clearly something that no sane policy could condone in the light of current events. It also lacks a strong renewable energy standard that will push the energy sector to develop significant renewable energy assets. Finally, it puts a weak cap on U.S. carbon emissions that could start to send a signal to the market that investments in clean energy technology are a good bet for the future.
With arguments that fall apart as easily as Murkowski's arguments in her op-ed piece do, it doesn't seem like the vote on her Dirty Air Act this week should be very close. But, unfortunately, this is still Washington, D.C., so it should surprise no one that fossil fuel industry interests have gone into overdrive on this issue and turned a clear no-brainer into a rather "Murky" one that is expected to come down to the wire.
While we are disappointed Murkowski's resolution has gotten this far, we still believe that we can prevent an even more unpleasant surprise this Thursday by continuing to let our senators know exactly how we feel on this issue. Climate and environmental groups from across the country have come together strongly over the last few months in opposition to Murkowski's cynical move to gut the Clean Air Act. We've "stormed" Senate offices nationwide to send a strong message to our senators: a vote for Murkowski is a vote that you will come to regret for the rest of your political careers.
The climate movement will continue this kind of political pressure all week to stop Murkowski's resolution. This should come as a surprise to no one.