Senate Affirms EPA Authority to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski has boldly come out on the side of Big Oil over the past several weeks, at first defending villain du jour BP from an increased liability cap, and then pushing a measure to limit the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate pollution causing global climate change. The reason is clear: her state is dependent on oil companies being able to do what oil companies do best: drill deep and pump lots of money into local economies.

A majority of her colleagues, however, see things differently. As Democrats continue to push increased BP liability, Murkowski was handed a definitive defeat Thursday on the EPA front. In a measure with 40 cosponsors, Murkowski argued that EPA's impending crackdown on top polluters next year was unconstitutional. And if she had to stop the "runaway agency" herself, so be it. Yet when the votes were counted, she came up short—a 47-53 loss.

It's worth noting that the measure was fairly meaningless to begin with. Even if Murkowski got more than 50 votes, the measure was a resolution, not a bill, meaning it has limited actual force other than to proclaim EPA lacked authority. Even if it did have the firm rule of law to institute something different, President Obama had already vowed last week to kneecap it with a veto.

Yet while enviros and the White House might be relieved that Murkowski and her oil industry pals fell short, there's not much celebrating going on. As NEWSWEEK reported earlier this year in the dead-tree edition of the magazine, the EPA might be required to regulate greenhouse gases from the country's top polluters, but the agency certainly doesn't want to. Cracking down on almost all sectors of the economy is a recipe for political peril. Obama would be accused of executive overreach, while the EPA would be vilified by big industries with big advertising budgets. The real solution, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told NEWSWEEK in March, is for Congress to come up with a better solution that would be more tailored to specific industries than just merciless cuts across the board. So while the good news for EPA is that it wasn't handicapped today by Congress, the bad news is that agency regulators are about to get their hands dirty. Very dirty.

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Unless, of course, Obama can pressure the Senate to pass a comprehensive energy bill this summer that includes cutting carbon emissions. Pushing the onus onto Congress means one less thing—and it's a big thing—for him to do.

Senate Affirms EPA Authority to Regulate Greenhouse Gases | U.S.