Yesterday, my blog post was on the EPA’s work in developing a structure under which they can regulate large stationary emitters of greenhouse gases. This work could provide an alternative method of reducing these emissions if congress is unable to pass proposed carbon cap and trade legislation into law. The EPA has recently issued their proposed rule for regulating greenhouse gas emissions and several congressmen are striking back. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is co-sponsoring a resolution with Senator Lindsey Graham (R- South Carolina) that would tie the EPA’s hands (at least for a while) by disapproving their finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and welfare. The resolution is expected to be voted on in 2-3 weeks. The resolution’s co-sponsor is the same Senator Graham who worked with Senators Kerry and Lieberman on developing the Senate’s current energy and climate bill proposal, titled the American Power Act, only to step away from the table just before its reveal. According to Senator Graham, many of the supporters of this resolution believe that we need federal regulations to reduction greenhouse gas emissions. However, they believe that this type of regulation should come from Congress and not from the EPA.
Federal lawmakers have been working for over a year on the development of energy and climate legislation that would regulate the emission of greenhouse gases. This legislation currently sits in the Senate, where a proposal released last week by Senators Kerry and Lieberman has sparked significant discussion and debate.
But the Obama Administration has not put all its eggs in this legislative basket. The Administration is also pursuing regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under existing legislative authority held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA may regulate greenhouse gases that threaten public health and welfare. On December 7th of last year, the EPA announced its finding regarding current and projected concentrations of six different greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide) in our atmosphere. The finding (in short) acknowledged the negative impact of these gases.
Subsequent to this finding, the EPA has developed a set of guidelines that would govern their actions to regulate emissions from large power plants, factories and oil refineries. Under a rule proposed last Thursday, qualifying facilities would be limited in their ability to emit certain greenhouse gases. These facilities would include those that emit at least 75,000 tons (for existing plants) of greenhouse gases per year or 100,000 tons per year for new facilities. These facilities represent 70 percent of stationary greenhouse emissions in the United States today. Mobile emitters (aka you and me when we’re driving our cars) would not be directly impacted by this rule – though we would certainly feel its indirect impact from regulations on oil refineries.
According to Senator Barbara Boxer (a Democrat from California) said that the Senate’s energy and climate bill may come out next week. It looks like Senators Kerry and Lieberman are planning to release the bill even if their former Republican partner does not choose to return to the table. This bill had a planned release on April 26, but its unveiling was postponed when tension increased over immigration reform.
According to EE News “The Kerry-Lieberman climate bill is expected to call by 2020 for a 17 percent cut in emissions below 2005 levels, with the emission limits applying to different sectors of the economy at different times. Trade-sensitive manufacturers, for example, would start in the climate program six years after power plants, Kerry said today. The legislation is also expected to promote increased domestic production of nuclear power and offshore oil and gas, despite the outcry from environmentalists in the wake of the Gulf Coast oil spill.”
The energy and climate baton has been held by the Senate since last June, after the House passed their own bill (H.R. 2454). Over the past several months, the baton has been carried by three Senators:
- Lieberman – an Independent from Connecticut
- Kerry – a Democrat from Massachusetts (also the home state of Representative Markey, a primary author on the House bill)
- Graham – a Republican from South Carolina
Their work has been a commendable effort – three individuals with significant differences with regard to basic political ideologies working together to develop an energy and climate bill that each could live with. In a government that (from the outside looking in) still appears heavily entrenched in partisan politics, these three gentlemen’s efforts gave rise to the hope that we could – united as a country – successfully develop the legislation that will lead our country to the sustainable energy future that will be key in our continued success as a world power.
The past week has brought these hopes to a sharp precipice, where all but the most dedicated appear ready to let go of their hopes for comprehensive energy and climate legislation before midterm elections hit this November. This shift occurred as Americans watched the third musketeer, Senator Graham, step away from the table just days prior to the planned release of the bill. His reason for walking away from this process – his belief that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was going to put immigration reform ahead of energy and climate on the legislative docket.
Immigration reform has long been on President Obama’s agenda. It is not a new topic – having been explored in past administrations (we still have not forgotten the Bush border fence). But, until Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer but pen to paper on Friday, immigration reform had not been the top item on the congressional to-do list. Her state’s controversial immigration law has drawn America’s fire, being called “hysterical naitivism” that puts the conservative border state “at risk of becoming a police state” and at the same time attracts support from 70% of Arizona residents according to a recent poll. Regardless of your position on Arizona’s law, there is no doubt that it has heated up the push toward federal immigration policy reform.
Senator Graham has long been an advocate for immigration reform and expects to be involved in the process, which he believes may not be a feasible option given his time commitments to energy and climate legislation. He further justified stepping away from his work with Senators Kerry and Lieberman in part through voicing his belief that immigration reform would be put ahead of energy and climate on the legislative docket because of Senator Reid’s personal agenda for his reelection campaign this fall. According to the White House, it is more likely that Senator Graham walked away because of pressure from conservatives.
According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, energy and climate legislation from the three Senators is still a priority in front of immigration reform if nothing else than because of the simple fact that the Senate has been working on this topic for longer, and losing momentum now would be detrimental to the future success of this legislation.