From Green Right Now Reports

(Editor’s note: On June 10, the Senate voted 53-47 to reject Murkowski’s bill.)

While some U.S. senators struggle to find a way forward on climate action, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has stepped into the fray to call for a time out.

She’s not alone. Many others in Congress have said they’re more concerned about slowing government regulations than slowing climate change. But she has recently distinguished herself as one of the strongest opponents of controls on carbon pollution.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to a group of lawyers in May. (Photo: C-Span)

Murkowski, a longtime supporter of oil drilling, has become more vocal in the past year in her efforts to keep industry free of strong environmental controls. In January, she proposed stripping the EPA of its ability to  regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

More recently, she’s lamented that the BP oil disaster has temporarily halted exploratory offshore drilling in the arctic planned by Shell Oil for this summer; a topic that even many conservative opponents of climate action have remained silent on in the face of the unfolding historic despoiling of the gulf.

Murkowski’s first measure, a proposal to stop the EPA from developing regulations to control GHGs, is set to come up for a Senate vote next week. And it’s not part of a fringe movement. The bill has attracted 41 co-signers, mostly Republicans and a few conservative democrats, and needs only 10 more, a simple majority, to pass.

Supporters of the measure, which challenges the EPA’s authority to decide which businesses are regulated, may have varied reasons for signing on.

Either way, environmentalists are worried.

The bill, known as the Resolution of Disapproval or SJ Resolution 26, would “dismantle” the EPA’s ability to enforce GHG emissions under the Clean Air Act and also would undermine the coming higher gas mileage standards for cars and trucks set in motion by the Obama Administration last year, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Those new mileage standards were premised on the same  finding that underpins the EPAs authority to regulate greenhouse gases, a finding declaring that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and endangers the public’s health. (The EPA made that finding official last December after a court ruling required the EPA to make a scientifically supportable conclusion one way or the other.)

Murkowski’s stated reason for opposing carbon regulation is straightforward: It should be Congress’ job to shape and define what these regulations, she and others have said. The EPA, they say, should not have too much latitude without Congressional oversight.

As a champion of oil and gas industry interests, Murkowski’s opposition goes beyond government protocol. Stopping action on climate action makes sense for fossil fuel companies currently unencumbered by carbon fees or taxes.

But Murkowski is a bit harder to pin down than that. She has said she believes global warming exists and once appeared amenable to supporting a Congressional climate bill.

“Murkowski once seemed to represent a new voice on climate change among congressional Republicans—but she’s now their most effective obstructionist,” wrote Kate Sheppard in a recent Mother Jones article.

Regarding the tussle over who should regulate carbon emissions. Murkowski does have some precedent on her side. Usually, Congress does have a hand in what gets regulated and how. Elected leaders set the parameters and federal agencies write the fine print and handle the enforcement. Or at the least, everyone works together to make new rules.

Climate change, however, has toppled this process. With some members of Congress not even “believing in” climate change and others wont to spend any money or make any new regulations that would displease the voters angry about big overhaul bills, the Senate has failed for a year to come up with a mutually agreeable carbon reduction plan. The latest bill, the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act has both Democratic and Republican detractors.

The EPA stepped into this void, developing rules to govern carbon pollution from vehicles, and more recently, crafting the initial rules that would regulate carbon pollution by large industrial and commercial concerns. In May, the EPA unveiled its initial plan to regulate the carbon emissions of large companies.

Outside the Capitol building, those clamoring for curbs on carbon pollution welcome the EPA’s involvement.

Environmental advocates point out that the Clean Air Act has worked well, though not perfectly, to set limits on other types of air pollution, and that it is not a big stretch to extend that EPA’s control to include the carbon emissions of industrial polluters. In fact, it is not a stretch at all in the view of the U.S. Supreme Court which ruled that the EPA could rightly regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act if it found, scientifically, that such pollution was harmful. It is and they did.

Just as Murkowski would like the EPA to butt out, climate change advocates say they could do without her interference. The NRDC calls her move to undercut the EPA the “Dirty Air Act.” (See David Doniger’s latest blog explaining the politics behind Murkowski’s move.) They see the senators’ attack on the EPA as setting back the Clean Air Act and abandoning improved mileage standards, a relatively painless way to slow the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming.

As the NRDC’s senior attorney Doniger notes in his blog, even automakers are on board with making more efficient cars that will reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

The NRDC is running a campaign to stop Murkowski’s plan and asking those who support greenhouse gas regulation by the EPA and/or improved mileage economy for cars and trucks to send a note to their U.S. senators via the NRDC website.

Meanwhile, Murkowski, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources committee, continues to fight for more oil and gas drilling, especially, obviously, in Alaska, and remains a strong proponent of offshore drilling, even since the BP disaster. Murkowski:

  • Favors oil drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas where she says new and “fascinating” technologies now make it possible to safely drill, despite the harsh climate and ferocious winds. (Several major environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund, recently wrote to the President urging him to ban arctic drilling, which they see as risky and capable of ruining the already fragile arctic ecosystems.)
  • Recently told a gathering of lawyers that “responsible exploration” of arctic waters is possible because oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean can be accomplished at shallower depths.
  • Defended Shell Oil’s plan to put in an exploratory oil well in the Arctic Ocean (which was put on hold by President Obama’s six-month moratorium on offshore drilling),  saying it has undergone “more scrutiny” than any other oil company in history. (In a speech to the Oceans Law and Policy Conference in May.)

Oil has been good for Alaskans, and the Alaska economy, and also for Murkowski’s campaign funds. Top contributors to Murkowski since 2005 include several energy and utility companies, according to Open’s Top 100 contributors to Lisa Murkowski. Some of those supporters:

  • Constellation Energy ($37,146), Edison Chouert Offshore ($36,250) and Exxon Mobil ($20,ooo)
  • FPL, Duke Energy, Occidental Petroleum, Conoco Phillips, Chevron, Excelon Valero Energy and Royal Dutch Shell (all gave $10,000 or more)
  • Koch Industries, a giant diversified business that began in oil delivery. Koch is run by brothers Charles and David Koch who support politicians and groups that deny that global warming, the best known of which is the Cato Institute. Kansas-based Koch is a privately held firm. (Koch contributes to dozens of other politicians.
  • For the record, Murkowski acknowledges global warming exists and has said favorable things about  the Cantwell-Collins Carbon Reduction Act, an alternative to the stalled Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act, which simplifies the process of charging industries for carbon pollution and returns fees collected to taxpayers. The Cantwell proposal has won some support from both Democrats and Republicans.

    Murkowski, the daughter of the former Alaskan Senator Frank Murkowski, was born in the state in 1957. She holds a BA in economics and a law degree from Willamette College of Law in Oregon. After serving as Anchorage District attorney from 1987-89 and in the Alaska State house of representatives from 1999-2002, she was appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of her father, Frank H. Murkowski in 2002 when he was elected governor of Alaska. She was elected to the Senate in 2004 for a term ending Jan. 3, 2011.