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Murkowski hopes to block EPA greenhouse gas regulations

January 19, 2010 |  4:42 pm

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Alaska is on the front line of climate change: Glaciers are melting, shoreline communities such as Shishmaref are eroding away, shrinking Arctic ice floes are driving polar bears toward shoreline communities. It's also home to some of the nation's biggest oil and gas reserves, which may be why U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is leading the charge to keep greenhouse gas emissions from being regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Murkowski's staff says she is poised to act this week on a proposed amendment (download Murkowski's amendment here) to bar the EPA in the coming year from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide. The Alaska senator's staff says she will either introduce the amendment on Wednesday or take a different tack and on Thursday introduce a "disapproval resolution" -- essentially seeking to invoke a congressional veto of the EPA's proposed finding that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere threaten public health.

The so-called endangerment finding, announced last April, is a cornerstone of the Obama administration's attack on climate change.

"This isn't about the science of climate change. The issue is, everyone agrees that EPA regulation of greenhouse gas stationary sources is going to be a bureaucratic nightmare, and really pose a serious threat to the economy," said Robert Dillon, communications director for the Senate energy and natural resources committee. "So why move forward with something that even the president has said is the worst possible solution to greenhouse gases?"

Murkowski's proposed amendment, which the Washington Post and Politico revealed was drafted with the aid of two energy industry lobbyists, has drawn statements of alarm from the conservation community, public interest organizations and climate change scientists.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, three dozen groups, including the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, urged Reid to oppose any attempt by Murkowski to amend the 2010 debt limit bill, to include the greenhouse gas regulation restriction.

"The Clean Air Act will ... ensure that the largest power plants and factories use modern technology to reduce their global warming pollution and use cleaner energy," the letter said.  The proposed amendment, it said, would "let ... America's biggest polluters off the hook" and undermine U.S. credibility in trying to win big global concessions on CO2 emissions.

Friends of the Earth Action is following up now with a pair of radio ads in Murkowski's home state of Alaska and also in another big energy jobs state, North Dakota, where Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a Democrat, earlier this month introduced a bill that would similarly bar the EPA from acting on greenhouse gas emissions.

"Global warming. Alaska's on the front line, and the economy's threatened," says the Alaska ad. "Truckers can't drive the tundra. Coastal villages flooded by storm surge.... Unfortunately, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is more interested in working for Washington lobbyists and special interests than she is in protecting Alaska's way of life."

The ad references a report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that Murkowski accepted more than $50,000 in campaign contributions from clients of the lobbyists who helped craft her proposed amendment.

"Sen. Murkowski took lobbyists' money, then invited them to help her write legislation that will hurt her constituents," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action, said in a statement. "It's classic pay-to-play politics, and it's wrong."

The senator has insisted it is normal practice to consult those who are likely to be impacted by proposed regulations before imposing them. In a floor speech talking about the amendment in September, she characterized it as "nothing more than a temporary timeout that will give us breathing room in an already heated debate."

Dillon said the proposed amendment would not interfere with the Obama administration's plan to finalize new standards for cars and light trucks, which he said could be regulated by the Department of Transportation, not the EPA. The amendment would allow Congress to move forward with climate change pace at a more rational pace, Dillon said.

"Congress is moving. It may not be moving at the rate the administration wants, but that's the way it goes," he said. "Sen. Murkowski believes that EPA regulation should be taken off the table, and then we can deal with climate change."

-- Kim Murphy

Photo: U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

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