This morning Lisa Murkowski took to the floor of Congress to introduce her joint resolution of disapproval, which would overturn the U.S. EPA’s endangerment finding deeming greenhouse gas emissions a threat to public health.
It was one of the most spectacular displays of mendacity and misdirection I’ve ever seen from a U.S. senator, and that’s really saying something.
There were lots of little misleading tidbits, but the big lie at the core is this: Murkowski said “this has nothing to do with the science of climate change.” That is just flatly false. The point of her resolution is to overturn a judgment by EPA scientists that greenhouse gases are a threat to public health. That is a scientific judgment; it is precisely about the science of climate change. It is exactly the same as if a Senator tried to overturn a ruling by the EPA that arsenic, or mercury, or lead paint is a threat. It’s a radical attempt by the legislative branch to interfere with executive branch scientists.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a couple of others:
1. Murkowski referenced the EPA’s “tailoring rule,” which would raise the threshold for regulated entities from those that emit over 100 tons of CO2 to those that emit over 25,000 tons. That would substantially reduce the number of regulated entities. Murkowski stated flatly that the courts will overturn the tailoring rule. (Ironically, it’s polluting businesses that are suing to block the tailoring rule, since they very much want EPA regs to be a mess.) This is something she can not possibly know; the legal community generally believes otherwise. Even if the tailoring rule is rejected, nothing says the EPA has to regulate small entities the same way they regulate large entities. They can come up with special, expediting permitting processes, etc. (More on EPA regs here.) The notion of EPA regulating churches and bakes sales is just a scare story to spook the public.
2. Murkowski said that EPA regulations would shut down natural gas pipelines, since there is no “best available control technology” for natural gas compressor stations. That’s false on two counts. First, nothing compels the EPA to simply shut down facilities that have no obvious way to reduce their emissions. EPA regulators are not robots; they can tailor their rules to different classes of emitters.
Secondly, it is possible to reduce emissions at compressor stations — the waste heat they emit can be captured and used to create more power to run the stations, increasing efficiency and reducing emissions. (Alternatively, the electricity can be fed into the grid, with the same net effect.) In aggregate there’s something like 2GW of potential power here. FERC chair Jon Wellinghof is all over this — it’s a personal mission of his. It’s precisely the kind of thing that regulations might finally kick into action.
3. Murkowski slathered her comments with a thick layer of concern trolling, saying repeatedly that she and her colleagues are working diligently to find a solution for reducing emissions and that the threat of EPA regulations was only hindering that work. That is, of course, delusional on both counts.
Where to begin? Murkowski noted that she has co-sponsored a climate bill, and it’s true. In 2006 she co-sponsored an absurdly weak bill with Jeff Bingaman and Arlen Specter, which would have capped the price of CO2 permits at $12, effectively neutering its effect. Since then she has signed on to none of the many subsequent bills and done her best to undermine all of them. When she listed the efforts underway in the Senate today, she pointedly left out the main bill under consideration, passed by the House and the Senate EPW Committee last year. She has not said a single word in support of any bill that actually has a chance of passing.
She made no attempt to outline what kind of solution would actually solve the problem (as opposed to the euphemistic “balancing environment and economy,” long-time Republicanspeak for protecting corporate backers). She made a big production of saying that this issue warrants full and extensive (and slooow) debate in the Senate, but made no note of the fact that her party has gone nuts, been unified in opposition to every single thing Democrats have tried to do, and put forward as its principle spokesperson on the issue a senator, James Inhofe, who denies that climate change even exists. The pieties about the sanctity of the democratic process are a bit rich in light of Republicans’ serial abuse of Senate rules and procedures.
Finally, the idea that it’s the EPA backstop preventing Republicans from engaging with the issue in good faith … does that bit of fabulism even warrant a response? Can she be serious?
Boxer took the floor after Murkowski to rage against the resolution, pointing out — accurately — that it’s an unprecedented attempt by legislators to overrule the work of federal scientists. Would Senators try to tell federal agencies that nicotine isn’t harmful if they didn’t like the implications? How about arsenic, or lead?
Boxer’s speech was fine as far as it went, but it doesn’t go far enough. Neither Boxer nor any other legislator is taking on Murkowski’s main argument directly. Murkowski says these new environmental regulations would destroy the economy. Why won’t Boxer defend them on those grounds? Conservatives have been Chicken Little-ing about environmental regulations for a century now, and every time, without fail, experience proves their fears unfounded. Can’t some senator stand up and say clearly that the economic fear-mongering is bankrupt?
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) came closer in a statement released after Murkowski’s speech, in which she says:
If passed, this amendment would send a message that the United States will remain reliant on outdated and inefficient energy technologies and delay investment in new, clean technologies that would spur innovation and create good-paying, American jobs, all across this great nation