Big oil loses: Senate rejects EPA curb

By:  Joel Connelly

Big Oil lost a big battle in Congress on Thursday, as the U.S. Senate
rejected by a 53-47 vote a resolution to stop the Environmental Protection
Agency from limiting emission of greenhouse gases by oil refineries,
coal-burning power plants and other industrial facilities.

Six Democrats, mainly from oil and coal states, joined all 41 Senate
Republicans in the bid to curb the EPA’s authority to regulate large

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sponsor of the “resolution of disapproval”
decried what she called “an unprecedented power grab” in which Congress’
authority would be ceded to “unelected bureaucrats.”

But Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., argued that EPA has a duty to act under the
law and a clear mandate in scientific findings on impacts of pollution on
climate and human health.

“We are actually debating whether to overturn the science-based determination
that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare to the current
and future generations of Americans,” Cantwell argued.

Nearly 40 years after the Clean Air Act was enactment, Cantwell said, “We
have come to the point where thousands of scientists, working throughout the
federal government and around the world over the course of decades, have
identified a serious risk associated with the emissions of greenhouse

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Environment Committee,
showed pictures of oil-soaked birds from the Gulf of Mexico, and argued that the
spill is a direct consequence of the United States’ addiction to burning carbon

“For someone to come to this (Senate) floor and say carbon — too much carbon
— is not dangerous, then I’m sorry, we’re going to have to look at these
pictures, even though we don’t want to,” Boxer declared. “We’ve got to stop this
attack on science and health.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, took the opposite tack, saying: “Global warming
is the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people.”

“(Boxer) spent three-fourths of her time talking about the oil spill: Let me
say, Madame President, there’s no relationship between this (EPA resolution) and
the oil spill,” he said.

Inhofe would become chairman of the Senate Environment Committee if
Republicans reclaim control of the Senate this November. Last week, he blocked
efforts to raise the existing $75 million liability limit for oil spills.

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll, released Thursday, found that 71 percent
of Americans said they support greenhouse gas regulation, up six points from
December. Fifty-two percent said they “strongly” support greenhouse gas
regulation, compared with just 19 percent strongly opposed.

The House of Representatives last fall passed climate change legislation that
would cap emissions of carbon into the atmosphere. But the Senate has not yet
taken up the bill, despite urgings of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Murkowski sought to distance herself from climate change skeptics, arguing
the issue was whether it is Congress’ authority, not the EPA’s, to curb
emissions. “We’re not here to decide whether or not greenhouse gases should be

As the Alaska senator sought to curb EPA’s authority, a research team headed
by Ohio State University professors has published findings that less ice covers
the Arctic today than at any time in recent geologic history.

“The ice loss we see today — the ice loss that started in the early 20th
Century and sped up during the last 30 years — appears to be unmatched over at
least the last few thousand years,” Leonid Polyak, a scientist at Byrd Polar
Research Center at OSU, told Science Daily.

The carbon economy still has clout in Congress, despite the Gulf of Mexico
oil spill disaster.

Liberal Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, from a major coal-producing
state, voted against EPA regulation as did such oil state Democrats as Sens.
Mary Landrieu, of Louisiana, and Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, of

Cantwell saw things differently.

“Given scientific findings, the legal mandate from the U.S. Supreme Court,
and the statutory requirements spelled out in the Clean Air Act, the EPA has a
responsibility to act,” she said. For Congress now to undermine that process
would be to undermine the Clean Air Act itself and the sanctity of science-based

“It would be a very bad precedent, and it would be a threat to our children
and to the environment in which we want them to grow up.”