In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released today, 71 percent of Americans said they support such regulation, up 6 points from December. Fifty-two percent said they "strongly" support greenhouse gas regulations, considerably higher than the 19 percent who strongly oppose them.
The perception that global warming is occurring has declined, but it still remains powerful. In a November ABC News/Washington Post poll, 72 percent said they think the Earth has been warming, down from a peak of 85 percent in 2006.
There have been a number of attempts in Congress in recent years to pass legislation to cut carbon emissions. The House passed a bill late last year that would have capped how much carbon businesses can emit and allowed them to trade for emissions beyond that ceiling.
Some experts said that while Congress has the authority to mandate greenhouse gases, they have not clarified when and how they will regulate such gases, which is important to avoid an environmental catastrophe.
"It makes no sense to say that EPA is usurping Congressional power when Congress hasn't used this power," Gerrard said. "I think EPA would rather have a clear Congressional mandate and a target to try to achieve" rather than trying to set the objective itself.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson called Sen. Murkowski's bill "a step backward," arguing Monday that it would increase U.S. dependence on oil by 455 million barrels.
"This resolution would take us back to the old energy policies by allowing the polluters to simply pay modest penalties to avoid full compliance with the standards," Jackson wrote in the Huffington Post.
A number of Democrats, particularly those like Sen. John Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, who hail from coal producing states, sided with Republicans.
Climate change legislation remains in limbo in the Senate, even though calls for passing comprehensive legislation have grown louder since the BP oil disaster. But with several different proposals on the table, Democrats are divided over how to proceed.
The most comprehensive climate change legislation, proposed by Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, included some incentives for offshore oil drilling to attract Republican support. But in the wake of the environmental crisis on the Gulf coast, those will likely have to be reassessed. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, has backed off on energy legislation and is advocating against it even though he was one of the original sponsors of the bill.
"Increasingly, it's looking like some other energy bill, or in the form of incentives and subsidies for efficiency and clean energy will likely go forward," said congressional scholar Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "I just think the politics don't support it. It's hard to believe that in a time of continued economic distress, you can pull it off, even if in substantive terms it makes good sense."
The most recent proposal was a 112-page bill released Wednesday by Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Indiana. The bill calls for more fuel efficiency programs and energy efficiency but doesn't include any specifics on carbon caps and regulating greenhouse gases.
Republican leaders are swinging back at Democrats for using the Gulf coast oil spill as a way to push energy and environment legislation.