Murkowski to attempt to block EPA from regulating carbon

With cap-and-trade languishing in the Senate, the Obama administration has warned that it will use the EPA to regulate carbon emissions if Congress refuses to act on the White House global-warming agenda.  Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will attempt to thwart that option with an amendment today that would block the EPA from issuing any new CO2 regulations.  Will Murkowski’s effort have any chance in a chamber with 59 Democrats?

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) plans to introduce an amendment Thursday morning banning the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide.

The proposal is fiercely opposed by the administration, which sees EPA action as a way to pressure the Senate into passing cap and trade legislation curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Prospects for the bill have dimmed in recent weeks, as the health care debate has taken center stage.

“We don’t think the amendment is a good idea,” White House climate advisor Carol Browner said on Tuesday. “It could get you a situation where activities that should go forward — like investments in carbon capture and storage — wouldn’t be able to go forward.”

The amendment would stop the EPA from issuing new regulations capping greenhouse gases emissions from utilities and factories for one year. Murkowski plans to ask for her amendment to be brought up before the cloture vote on the Interior and Environmental Appropriations bill, according to aides.

This might have more of a chance than it seems.  First, cap-and-trade does not have as much Democratic support as the health-care overhaul effort, which says something.  C&T splits Democrats both ideologically and geographically, as Senators from red states and coal-producing regions fearful of the economic impact of CO2 regulation.

The Senate may also be inclined to stop the EPA from trumping Congressional privilege.  Federal agencies can issue rules but not laws; the latter must be passed by Congress, which has oversight on regulation as well.  Agencies attempt to evade Congress by regulation at their own peril.  Most of the time, Congress guards its privileges rather closely, and even some Senators amenable to cap-and-trade may not want to see it imposed by default through regulation, which will almost certainly get botched in terms of its impact on the economy.

Still, it seems like a long shot.  Many of the Democrats want CO2 regulated, and the EPA would almost certainly get the job if Congress passed cap-and-trade anyway.  With the Obama administration already floundering, Democrats may not want to make Barack Obama any weaker.  And EPA regulation could get some of them off the hook with voters, although once the economies of those regions begin to suffer, that will almost certainly not be the case.

Call your Senators and tell them to support the Murkowski amendment once it’s offered.

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