Democrats Thwart Effort to Limit EPA’s Reach

Posted June 10, 2010 at 3:28pm

Updated: 4:41 p.m.

Senate Democrats beat back Thursday a GOP attempt to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating emissions after waging a full-court press against the measure.

The chamber voted, 47-53, against a motion to proceed to the joint resolution sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), which had the support of six Democrats: Evan Bayh (Ind.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.).

The resolution disapproves of the Environmental Protection Agency’s findings that carbon emissions harm air quality and should therefore be regulated by the federal agency.

Republicans suggested the Democratic crossover indicated a lack of support within the majority for broader cap-and-trade legislation. Rockefeller, who hails from a major coal-producing state, reiterated the point raised by Republicans that Congress, not federal agencies, should set standards on greenhouse gas emissions.

“EPA can’t decide. We have to. Some can ridicule that; I don’t,” Rockefeller said on the floor. “I’m elected to protect my people and my country.”

Democrats, who are currently grappling with how to address energy policy in the wake of the massive Gulf Coast oil spill, maintained that the EPA is authorized to regulate harmful emissions such as carbon and suggested Murkowski’s amendment was an effort to delay action on broader legislation.

“I cannot see any reason to do this other than delay,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said at a press conference earlier Thursday.

Murkowski, who last year co-authored energy legislation with Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), refuted that claim.

“This is not a referendum on any other bill in Congress, but it is a check on EPA’s regulatory ambition,” she said.

But Democrats have not crafted a path forward on energy reform, and stakeholders spent much of Thursday discussing the issue. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) huddled with relevant committee chairmen for a strategy session. Reid earlier in the day met with President Barack Obama and the other Congressional leaders at the White House, where energy reform was among the items discussed. Following that meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared that he would have the votes to defeat cap-and-trade legislation should it come to the floor.