WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, a leading Republican on energy policy, on Thursday moved to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming.
The Alaska lawmaker, in a speech on the Senate floor, said she so far had the firm support of 35 fellow Republicans and three Democrats for legislation that could move through the Senate in an expedited process.
If there is a vote on her initiative, it could be an early barometer of the Senate’s willingness to address broader climate change legislation this year.
“Congress must be given time to develop an appropriate and more responsible solution” than EPA to climate change problems, Murkowski said. She warned that looming EPA regulation would lead to job losses and broader economic problems.
Murkowski is the senior Republican on the Senate Energy Committee and represents a major energy-producing state that also is showing signs of suffering from global warming. While she has said she supports looking at ways to address climate change, she has mainly supported more narrow bills on developing alternative energy and allowing more domestic oil and natural gas drilling.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer called Murkowski’s EPA legislation an unprecedented “assault,” adding, “We cannot and must not repeal a scientific health finding.”
Speaking at a press conference, Boxer was referring to a scientific review, which concluded that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health, the underpinning for EPA regulation under the Clean Air Act.
Murkowski faces an uphill fight in the Democratic-controlled Congress. Even if she were to convince enough Democrats in the Senate and House of Representatives to join her, the legislation would face a veto by Democratic President Barack Obama, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told reporters.
While Murkowski argued that she wants to take the power to regulate carbon out of EPA’s hands and ensure Congress would decide on such a sweeping policy, many environmentalists saw her legislation as one more Republican attempt to block any meaningful action on climate control.
On December 7, EPA cleared the way for regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that pollute the atmosphere by industries and vehicles as they burn fossil fuels.
The new EPA Clean Air Act regulations could move forward as soon as March.
Foreign countries are closely watching Washington’s actions on climate control as they weigh how forcefully they will join international calls for aggressively tackling climate change problems that could range from widespread drought and flooding to melting polar ice and rising sea levels.
The Obama administration has made clear that it prefers Congress pass more comprehensive legislation to reduce carbon emissions by utilities, oil refiners and heavy industry.
Supporters of a climate change bill that is stalled in Congress have used the threat of EPA regulation as a cudgel to win broader support among undecided lawmakers. Their argument is that Congress is better able to address industry concerns than the EPA.
That argument apparently was not effective with some senators, including Senator Blanche Lincoln, who faces a potentially tough re-election bid this year.
“Heavy-handed EPA regulation, as well as the current cap and trade bills in Congress, will cost us jobs and put us at an even greater competitive disadvantage to China, India and others,” said Lincoln, who joined forces with Murkowski.
Lincoln, like several moderate Democrats, wants passage of a more limited alternative energy bill that environmentalists say would be an inadequate answer to global warming troubles.
Environment America, representing environmental groups in 28 states, said Murkowski’s legislation was “a thinly veiled attempt to let the nation’s biggest global warming polluters off the hook...removing them from the Clean Air Act. It is an extreme action, written for polluters by polluters, to exempt Big Oil and Coal from complying with the law.”
Editing by Cynthia Osterman