WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski's battle to limit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's authority to cut greenhouse gas emissions ended Thursday, even as the Senate appeared to pick up momentum for passing more comprehensive climate-change legislation.
Her measure failed 53-47, largely on party lines, although the Alaska Republican had the support of six Democrats. Had it passed Congress, the White House said this week that President Barack Obama would have vetoed it.
Obama said Thursday the vote was yet another reminder of the need to pass legislation to address global warming and alternative energy. Murkowski's proposal "would have increased our dependence on oil by blocking efforts to cut the harmful pollution that contributes to climate change," he said in a statement.
"The Senate chose to move America forward, toward that clean-energy economy -- not backward to the same failed policies that have left our nation increasingly dependent on foreign oil," the president said.
The Senate spent six hours debating the measure, which came up in a rarely used procedural move known as a disapproval resolution. Because of the unusual nature of the measure, the Senate put aside all its other business to take up Murkowski's disapproval resolution. That included considering legislation to extend unemployment benefits.
Calling the Clean Air Act "an awful choice for reducing" emissions that lead to global warming, Murkowski made the case that allowing the EPA to write such regulations would cost jobs, hurt the economy and cede to the Obama administration authority that should be in the hands of Congress.
"It should be up to us to set the policy of this country, not unelected bureaucrats within an agency," Murkowski said.
BEGICH VOTES NO
Murkowski's Alaska colleague, Democrat Mark Begich, voted against her proposal, saying he believes Congress will ultimately be able to act before the EPA does. The vote, Begich said, only underscores the need for a national energy policy -- but he stopped short of endorsing the climate-change legislation being drafted by his Democratic colleagues.
"It is time for Congress to face up to this serious issue, not stick our heads in the sand and deny the irrefutable science," he said. "Alaskans are fed up with the political games being played in Washington rather than dealing with the tough issues directly. Taking action now will make our economy and national security stronger."
Environmentalists also considered it a major victory, but hastened to point out that it was not a referendum on any potential climate-change bill, which, unlike Murkowski's proposal, would need 60 votes to get to the Senate floor for debate.
Murkowski took pains to distance her proposal from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, saying her resolution was nothing more than a "check on EPA's regulatory ambition." She also downplayed concerns that her resolution attacked the underlying science behind the EPA's move.
"This is not a debate about the science," Murkowski said. "Really, this is about how we respond to the science. We're not here to decide whether or not greenhouse gases should be reduced. We're here to decide if we're going to allow them to be reduced under the structures of the Clean Air Act."
The EPA has been working on regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions as part of its compliance with a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision. The court required the agency to determine whether greenhouse gases endanger the country's health and welfare -- the EPA determined late last year that they do.
If Murkowski's resolution had been successful, it would have signaled congressional displeasure with the EPA's finding. It also would have essentially kept the federal agency from writing greenhouse gas regulations curtailing emissions from power plants, factories and other large polluters.
The EPA began the regulatory process in the absence of any comprehensive climate-change legislation by Congress. The Obama administration has long said it prefers that Congress write the guidelines, and even if lawmakers are slow to act, it could be years before the EPA rules take effect.
POLL: REGULATION NEEDED
Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who has been working on a bipartisan climate-change bill designed to curtail greenhouse gases, said Republican claims about an aggressive bureaucracy were disingenuous.
What they want, Kerry said, is to avoid passing any legislation that addresses climate change.
"This is going to be the great hypocrisy test resolution," Kerry said. "We're going to see how many folks who are here on the floor saying, 'We need to leave it to Congress,' how many of them are actually going to show up and vote to do what we need to do in order to change things? How many of them are going to be on the front lines trying in fact to make the things happen that need to happen in order to restrain greenhouse gases?"
Kerry, with his climate bill co-writer, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., were among 10 Democrats who met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to discuss clean-energy legislation.
The vote also came on the same day as the release of a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing broad public support for EPA oversight of harmful greenhouse gas emissions. About 71 percent of those surveyed support federal regulation of greenhouse gases from sources such as power plants, cars and factories, the poll found.
Murkowski's 40 co-sponsors included three Democrats: Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Three other Democratic senators voted for the legislation: Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, who had proposed legislation that would have stalled the EPA from moving forward on greenhouse gas regulations for two years.
Find Erika Bolstad online at adn.com/contact/ebolstad or call her in Washington, D.C., at 202-383-6104.