On 10 June 2010, the Senate blocked a measure to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate pollutants that cause climate change. The resolution (S.J.Res. 26) sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) would have overturned the EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. This “endangerment finding” has been the legal basis for EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Earlier this month, the EPA finalized a rule that would limit the emissions of power plants and large manufacturing facilities starting in 2011.
Senator Murkowski and many other supporters of the resolution feared the negative economic impact of the EPA’s regulation, instead calling for action by Congress. Some Senators, however, called into question the scientific evidence in support of anthropogenic climate change. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) said: “There is nowhere near a scientific consensus on either one of the EPA’s ‘findings’ that humans are causing warming or that warming is necessarily bad for the environment or for humankind.”
In contrast, many of the Senators who opposed the Murkowski resolution cited the need for science-based policy and for clean energy solutions in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “[W]e 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 gases. Given these scientific findings, the legal mandate from the United States Supreme Court, and the statutory requirements spelled out in the Clean Air Act, the EPA has a responsibility to act,” said Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
In a 47 to 53 vote, the Senate blocked a procedural motion that would have allowed a vote on the resolution. All 41 Republicans and six Democrats (Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia) voted in favor of the resolution.
The failure of the resolution comes as a relief for many supporters of climate change legislation. A vote by the Senate to overturn the EPA’s endangerment finding could have impaired the chamber’s ability to pass climate legislation this year, as the ‘threat’ of regulation by the EPA is an impetus for Congressional action for some lawmakers.
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