Last week, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) sponsored a measure to ban the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial facilities under the Clean Air Act, as ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Senate voted 53 to 47 against Murkowski and in favor of EPA’s authority to regulate carbon emissions, as the New York Times reports.
But the closeness of the vote gives the wrong impression about Americans’ views on this issue. The vote results might make you think that the nation is closely divided on climate policy, that the nation is deeply conflicted.
It is not. Only the Senate is, and the Senate is not a democratic body. It represents states, not people. It’s an Alice-in-Wonderland institution in which small population states all get “Eat Me” cakes and blow up like balloons, while giant-population states shrink down to small-state size.
In general, Senators vote their constituents’ values, so I tallied the populations represented by each Senator. By this measure, the 53 Senators voting to protect EPA’s authority represent 60 percent of the U.S. population. The 47 Senators voting to hogtie EPA represent 40 percent.
Democratically counted, it wasn’t a close 53-47. It was 60-40. That’s a different kind of story about political momentum and public will: it’s encouraging news.
Now, if we can just start fixing the Senate.
Note: I took the vote roll call from the U.S. Senate’s website and the Census Bureau’s estimates of 2009 mid-year population by state. I tallied the population of each state into the “yes” (con EPA) or “no” (pro EPA) column on the measure. Where the two Senators from a state split their votes, I split the state’s population between the “yes” and “no” columns. This tally undercounts U.S. opponents of the Murkowski measure (that is, EPA supporters), because the District of Columbia (which has almost Alaska’s population) is unrepresented in the U.S. Senate, as are Puerto Rico (which has almost six times Alaska’s population) and other U.S. territories and protectorates—most of which would likely have sent votes in support of EPA’s authority to the Senate on this question. Out of curiosity, I added D.C. and Puerto Rico to the “No” (pro-EPA) column, which pushed the percentages further in support of EPA carbon regulation, from 59.7 percent pro-EPA to 60.3 percent pro-EPA.
This post originally appeared at Sightline’s Daily Score blog.