What's Next For Climate Change?January 21, 2010 - by Eric Naing
Scott Brown’s upset victory in Massachusetts has rocked health care reform but the other big-ticket item on the Democratic agenda, comprehensive climate change legislation, has also been dealt a body blow.
Climate change legislation was already a tough sell before Brown’s victory but now more Democrats, particularly those from coal and gas states, may jump ship. Though the House passed a comprehensive cap and trade bill (H.R.2454) last year, the Senate has been struggling to pass its own version (S.1733).
As Donny Shaw noted yesterday, Sen. Byron Dorgan [D, ND] all but declared the bill dead and has joined the growing chorus of Democrats who want to drop cap and trade and focus on boosting the use of renewable energy sources. However, some question whether this will be enough to halt climate change.
So if option one, comprehensive climate change legislation, can’t pass the Senate and option two, gutting cap and trade, may not sufficiently reduce carbon dioxide emissions, what can Democrats do? Well, there is a third option: bypass Congress and let the Environmental Protection Agency regulate greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act. As David Roberts over at Grist explains, a 2007 Supreme Court ruling allows the EPA to do exactly that.
This third option, previously seen as a last resort for climate legislation advocates, is now getting attention and one woman, Sen. Lisa Murkowski [R, AK], is doing everything in her power to stop it.
David Roberts goes through the options at Murkowski’s disposal to try and prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases but she seems to be gravitating toward two in particular. First, Murkowski may try and introduce an amendment, possibly to the bill raising the government’s debt limit that I wrote about yesterday, blocking the EPA from regulating stationary power sources such as power plants. This amendment made headlines recently when it was revealed that Murkowski received help writing it from two Bush-era EPA officials who now work as energy lobbyists.
Second, Murkowski may invoke an obscure and rarely used procedural motion known as a “resolution of disapproval.” The brainchild of Newt Gingrich and signed into law by Bill Clinton, the Congressional Review Act allows Congress to pass such a resolution overturning regulations set by the legislative branch such as the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Murkowski is expected to announce which tactic she’ll employ sometime today. Whichever path she chooses, she will not be alone as two high-profile Democrats, Sen. Jim Webb [D, VA] and Sen. Mary Landrieu [D, LA], have joined Murkowski in her efforts.
But even with their support, Murkowski faces a tough fight ahead. Every weapon in Murkowski’s arsenal would have to make it out of Congress, though a resolution of disapproval is not subject to the filibuster, and survive a likely veto from President Obama. But even if she fails, Murkowski may still come out ahead just by forcing Obama and Congressional Democrats to take a stand on this highly complex and controversial issue.
UPDATE: Sen. Murkowski today introduced a resolution of disapproval to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act. Speaking from the Senate floor, Murkowski said, “We should continue our work to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation, but in the meantime, we cannot turn a blind eye to the EPA’s efforts to impose back-door climate regulations with no input from Congress.” Murkowski’s resolution currently has 38 co-sponsors including three Democrats: Sen. Landrieu, Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR] and Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE].
Remember, 51 votes are needed for this resolution to pass the Senate. And even if that happens and it passes the House, the resolution faces a likely veto from President Obama.