The Senate on June 10 narrowly rejected a “resolution of disapproval” that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from moving forward with regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
The vote was 53-47, with six Democrats, including Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and John D. Rockefeller (W.Va.) joining all Republicans present to support the measure. It was introduced by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
In the debate leading up to the vote, Republicans characterized the measure as a move to prevent a government agency from developing policy better left to Congress.
Democrats, on the other hand, including Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), lead sponsor of the the American Power Act, one of a few climate change bills being discussed, said the resolution would have prevented EPA from ever regulating greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act.
He added that approving the resolution would essentially override the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court ruling, which said that EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the clean air act if they are determined to endanger public health. EPA ruled last fall that greenhouse gasses do indeed pose a danger to public health.
Political observers had said that the vote was important because it could show whether there is enough support in Congress to enact climate change or comprehensive energy legislation this year.
With the vote so close, it’s hard to tell whether the political will to pass energy legislation this year exists in the Senate, which has thus far been unable to make significant progress on a climate change bill.
As has historically been the case, the discussion quickly devolved into a debate over the science of climate change—whether it is real, whether our faltering economy could withstand tough air quality regulations, and so on.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was to meet with committee chairs after the vote to see what the next step should be. He has indicated support for an slimmed-down energy bill that would address the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and include some provisions from the various climate change proposals currently being discussed.
Regardless of what the next step will be, Democrats were jubilant for the time being. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Kerry’s chief co-sponsor of the American Power Act, said during debate that rejection of the resolution would add momentum to efforts to enact climate change this year.
After the vote, Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer said, “We did the right thing today.”