Murkowski to Call on Congress to Block Federal Greenhouse Gas Regulation
Alaskan senator seeking to invoke obscure measure that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from curbing greenhouse gas emissions if Congress fails to act
Lisa Murkowski, an emerging leader on energy in Republican ranks, told a press conference on Wednesday she was thinking of invoking an obscure, rarely used measure that allows Congress to roll back government regulations.
"At this point in time, my inclination is to proceed with the resolution of disapproval," she said. "I think that is a more clear path forward."
If it passes, the resolution, brought under the Congressional Review Act, could remove the Obama administration's "plan B" for climate change - resorting to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to curb greenhouse gas emissions if Congress fails to act.
The measure - called the "nuclear option" by environmentalists - would also ban the administration from drafting any new regulation that would be substantially the same. That would make it even more difficult for any US government to regulate power plants and other big emitters.
Environmentalists say the proposal is unlikely to pass, but ensuring its defeat could require a new round of partisan warfare that could be damaging for Democrats and Obama's agenda.
Murkowski made her move just two days after a painful election defeat for the Democrats in a Massachusetts Senate seat. The loss further underlined the challenges to Obama's agenda, and the difficulties of getting an ambitious climate change programe through Congress.
Among Republicans, Murkowski has tried to cast herself as a moderate who would be prepared to act on climate change. But she has voted against legislation in the past, and has been much criticised this week by environmentalists for her links to the energy industry. According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, Murkowski, from the oil-rich state of Alaska, has received $244,000 (£151,205) in campaign funds from oil and gas companies since 2005, and consulted two energy industry lobbyists before launching today's proposal.
Even before the upset in Massachusetts, Democrats in the industrial heartland and from oil and coal states were wary - or in some cases flatly opposed - to action on climate change. Murkowski's resort to the so-called "nuclear option" could make Democrats even more nervous about embarking on a divisive battle over climate change ahead of the November 2010 mid-term elections.
On Wednesday, Mary Landrieu, a Democratic Senator from Louisiana who has repeatedly expressed concern for her state's oil refining business, told reporters she was working with Murkowski on blocking the EPA. Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, also told reporters this week he opposes using the EPA to regulate emissions.
The Alaskan's resolution would overturn the EPA's finding last month that greenhouse gas emissions were a public health threat. The so-called endangerment finding compelled the agency under the Clean Air Act to introduce regulations for the pollutant.
Murkowski's strategy hinges on using the Congressional Review Act - a law used for the first time in the early days of the George Bush era to throw out new ergonomic standards for workplaces passed under Bill Clinton.
"It would block the EPA from doing the endangerment finding and it would block it in the future," said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Murkowski. "She believes that the EPA is the worst possible solution. She is willing to consider legislation that would reduce emissions but she believes EPA regulation should be removed from the table."
The measure would require only 51 votes for passage - and Dillon said the Senator was confident of signing up all 40 Republicans as well as some Democrats.
The White House, the EPA, and even the Democratic leadership in Congress have also said they would prefer climate change legislation rather than resorting to the agency's regulatory powers. But the prospect of EPA regulation had been seen as an important nudge to get the Senate to act.
The House of Representatives passed a climate change bill last June, but the Senate has stalled. An effort led by Democrat John Kerry to craft a bill that could pull in Republican support has yet to produce a draft proposal.