Republican senator prepares move to block EPA carbon finding

As defeat in Massachusetts robs Democrats of their filibuster-proof Senate majority, senator Murkowski plans amendment to stop EPA regulating carbon emissions

Lisa Murkowski, the Republican senator from Alaska, looks set to file an amendment that could prevent the EPA regulating carbon emissions, in what could prove a devastating blow for the Obama administration’s attempts to pass climate change legislation.

Murkowski, traditionally a strong opponent of carbon regulation, is reportedly planning to piggyback her amendment on a Congressional debate over increasing the federal debt later today.

The debate on the debt bill features a series of amendments. Mukowski’s would impose a year-long restriction on the EPA, forbidding it from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

The move follows an endangerment finding on carbon emissions that came into effect on 14 January. That ruling, proposed just before the Copenhagen climate summit in December, enabled the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

If the amendment is introduced and passed, it could have severe ramifications on the Boxer-Kerry climate change bill that is currently stalled in Congress.

In a key piece of political manoeuvring, the Obama administration has been able to rely on the EPA endangerment finding as an alternative means of curbing carbon emissions if the cap-and-trade proposals in the climate bill are rejected by the Senate. Any successful attempt to remove the EPA’s legislative power would see the administration lose considerable footing in its battle to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the US.

A spokesman for Murkowski said the aim of the amendment was to stop Democrats “blackmailing” Congress into passing the current version of the Boxer-Kerry bill as a least worst alternative to new regulations from the EPA.

Murkowski has already made several attempts to stall the EPA’s endangerment finding. She attempted to get her amendment added to an EPA spending bill in September, but failed. She has also threatened to file a disapproval motion that would prevent the EPA regulating greenhouse gases as it has planned.

“If a pollutant is regulated under one section of the Clean Air Act, it triggers identical treatment in other sections of that statute. So while the EPA initially intends to address only mobile source emissions – meaning vehicles – the agency will also be required to regulate stationary source emissions as well,” she warned in mid-December, when she announced plans to file the disapproval motion.

Democrats have vowed to fight the amendment. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, told reporters yesterday that Murkowski’s actions were “a highly political move, and a highly hazardous one to our health and the environment”.

“If this senator succeeds, it could keep Congress from working constructively in a bipartisan manner to pass clean energy legislation this year,” he added.

In related news, the administration’s attempts to pass carbon legislation ahead of this year’s UN climate change summit in Mexico in December could have received another blow after Democrats lost the Massachusetts Senate seat made vacant by the death of senator Edward Kennedy.

Scott Brown beat Democrat candidate Martha Coakley by 52 per cent to 47 per cent, robbing the Democrats of their filibuster-proof 60-40 majority in the Senate and casting fresh doubts on the Obama administration’s ability to pursue its health reform and climate change plans.

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