A contentious Republican bill that would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases failed today in the Senate, but it exposed the divisiveness among Democrats on the issue and could disrupt the prospects of comprehensive energy and climate change legislation.
With the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher as a backdrop, Senate Republicans spent today arguing for a bill by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, designed to overturn an EPA finding last year on the dangers of greenhouse gases, which in turn gave the agency the authority to regulate those pollutants.
The legislation would also have affected the Obama administration's standards for the auto industry, which were based on the EPA's findings.
The bill, supported unanimously by Republicans, was doomed from the start -- the White House threatened to veto it and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, was unlikely to bring it up for a vote in the House -- but it exposed the differences among Democrats on the issue of climate change legislation.
Proponents were hoping an energy and environment bill would gain steam after the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, but the prospects still look dim, experts say.
"To a certain extent, the vote on the Murkowski resolution is something of a preliminary test of how a climate bill will fare in the Senate, but the message is murky," said Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. "Fewer the senators who vote for the Murkowski resolution, the better the prospects for climate legislation."
Murkowski and her allies today argued that letting the EPA control emissions would create a new energy tax and kill jobs, and that it's Congress' job, not regulators', to set the levels. Opponents argued that EPA actions will actually help create jobs, and that the bill ultimately denies greenhouse gases do harm.
"A vote for the Murkowski resolution of disapproval is a vote to deny climate science by overturning EPA's science-based finding that global warming pollution is dangerous to Americans' health and to their environment," Dan Lashof, director of climate change for the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote earlier today.
Political theater played out in the Senate as opponents tried to tie the bill to the Gulf coast disaster.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, came to the Senate floor this morning armed with props -- blown-up pictures of oil-soaked birds in the Gulf of Mexico. She said that while the images are difficult to look at, they are a direct consequence of the United States' addiction to carbon-emitting fuels.
"For someone to come to this floor and say carbon -- too much carbon is not dangerous, then I'm sorry, we're going to have to look at these pictures, even though we don't want to," said Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment Committee.
She ended up sparring, as she often does, with Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the environment committee, who said, "global warming is the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people."
"She spent three-fourths of her time talking about the oil spill. Let me say, Madam president, there's no relationship between this [EPA disapproval resolution] and the oil spill," Inhofe said.
While the prospects of comprehensive energy legislation remain murky, most Americans do think there should be regulation to curb greenhouse gas emissions.