WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski took her battle with the Environmental Protection Agency to the floor of the Senate Thursday, saying she was left with no choice but to fight a federal agency she believes is "contemplating regulations that will destroy jobs while millions of Americans are doing everything they can just to find one."
The Alaska Republican announced she would seek to keep the EPA from drawing up rules on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, refineries, manufacturers and other large emitters. Murkowski did it by filing a "disapproval resolution," a rarely used procedural move that prohibits rules written by executive branch agencies from taking effect.
Murkowski, seizing on the nation's 10 percent unemployment rate, warned there would be dire economic consequences if the EPA -- rather than Congress -- writes the rules for how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
"If Congress allows this to happen there will be severe consequences to our economy," Murkowski said. "Businesses will be forced to cut jobs, if not move outside our borders or close their doors for good perhaps. Domestic energy production will be severely restricted, increasing our dependence on foreign suppliers and threatening our national security. Housing will become less affordable."
Murkowski also said that she feared the consequences of regulating greenhouse gases on the construction and operation of a natural gas pipeline in Alaska.
But some environmental groups in Alaska said they are concerned her move to curb the EPA's authority could actually make the state's proposed natural gas pipeline less economically viable.
If Murkowski's effort is successful, it would allow coal-fired power plants to continue with unregulated carbon dioxide emissions, said Oceana's Jim Ayers, who worked on the natural gas pipeline as former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles' chief of staff. He believes that regulating greenhouse gas emissions makes natural gas much more attractive than coal, and therefore helps the economics of the proposed pipeline.
"Natural gas is far superior to coal, and the regulation of coal will bring natural gas into the marketplace much more rapidly," he said. "The regulation of coal is good for us."
Also weighing in was Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose state had to fight the EPA under the Bush administration to allow California to adopt tougher emissions standards. He urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to oppose "any effort in the Senate to block EPA's efforts to enforce the Clean Air Act to fight global climate change."
"Instead, please do everything you can to ensure that the Senate passes the strong clean energy and global warming legislation that the country needs to build a clean energy economy and protect the environment," he wrote Reid.
Murkowski has the backing of 39 other senators, including three Democrats, but her move has prompted an aggressive response by the EPA and environmental groups. Two separate environmental coalitions launched a radio and television advertising campaign in Anchorage and Washington, D.C., focusing on the role two industry lobbyists had in writing Murkowski's original proposal last fall.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson on Thursday urged senators to reject Murkowski's proposal, saying in a statement that it "put politics over science" and would require the EPA to ignore not only the Supreme Court's directive but "the evidence before our own eyes."
"The Murkowski resolution asks each senator to deny the overwhelming science that greenhouse gas pollution is a real and serious threat to the health and welfare of our citizens,' she said. "And it would be a reversal of the formal recognition that both the Senate and the House have already made of the harmful effects of greenhouse gas pollution."
At its core, Jackson said, Murkowski's resolution "is not about preventing or postponing regulation, but about denying the established scientific fact that greenhouse gases threaten the health of our people."
The EPA is working on regulations that will limit emissions by large producers of greenhouse gases as part of its compliance with a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision requiring the agency to determine whether greenhouse gases endanger the country's health and welfare.
Both the White House and congressional leaders have said they prefer that Congress write a law that would cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the legislation has stalled in the Senate, and if Congress fails to act, the EPA's rules could set the standard for greenhouse gas emissions from big, stationary sources of pollution.
Murkowski's disapproval resolution would essentially throw out the process by which the EPA found that greenhouse gases endanger public health, said Sen. Barbara Boxer, chairwoman of the committee that has done the most work on climate-change legislation: the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
She called Murkowski's resolution an "unprecedented move to overturn a health finding by health experts and scientific experts in order to stand with the special interests."
Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, called it "an unprecedented assault on science."
"It's unfortunate that Senator Murkowski is trying to overturn a determination based on the judgment of the best scientists in our nation on what's needed to protect the health of millions of Americans," Knobloch said. "This is especially surprising given that Alaskans, more than anyone, are feeling the effects of climate change first-hand. Senator Murkowski should understand that the magnitude of the problem is so massive that it would be foolish to discard any tool we have to combat it."
The EPA has been fighting Murkowski since she introduced a proposal last fall that called for limiting for one year the agency's ability to regulate greenhouse gases. Murkowski argued then that it would give Congress time to work on its own climate legislation so that what she called "the worst of our options, EPA regulation," didn't take effect before lawmakers completed their work.
It's not clear how much support Murkowski has beyond her co-sponsors, who include three Democrats: Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. All 12 of the Democrats on Boxer's committee oppose the disapproval resolution.
Reid, the Senate majority leader, also criticized Murkowski's effort, saying recently during an event in New York sponsored by the Geothermal Energy Association that Murkowski's proposal was "misguided."
"It's a highly political move, and a highly hazardous one to our health and the environment," Reid said, during an event in New York sponsored by the Geothermal Energy Association. "If this senator succeeds, it could keep Congress from working constructively in a bipartisan manner to pass clean energy legislation this year."
Murkowski's resolution goes now to Boxer's committee; if Boxer refuses to take it up, Murkowski needs 30 fellow senators to agree to have it heard on the floor of the Senate. Once there, it needs only a majority to pass and can't be filibustered. Even if it were to pass the Senate, it's unlikely it would advance in the House of Representatives.