June 11, 2010

Senate Upholds Greenhouse Gas Rules

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate narrowly beat back an effort by President Barack Obama's Republican enemies to curb the U.S. government's power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions tied to global warming.

Lawmakers voted 53-47 to block action on a resolution authored by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Murkowski's measures would have barred the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from moving to restrict carbon emissions from vehicles and industrial activity under the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Obama said the vote was "another reminder" of the need for a comprehensive energy and climate bill.

"Today, the Senate chose to move America forward, towards that clean energy economy - not backward to the same failed policies that have left our nation increasingly dependent on foreign oil," he said in a statement.

The legislation stemmed from a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that requires the government to decide whether carbon dioxide gas emissions pose a threat to human health.

The EPA subsequently issued an "endangerment finding" that greenhouse gasses threaten public health and welfare.

However, with November mid-term elections dominating the U.S. political landscape, the debate over the resolution centered on potential job-losses from EPA action and on the pros and cons of a more sweeping effort to combat climate change.

The White House, along with supporters of the regulation, both said they prefer the U.S. Congress act on comprehensive energy legislation, but were split on whether government agencies could or should act on climate change until then.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Murkowski's resolution was "a great, big gift to big oil" firms that would "increase pollution, increase our dependence on foreign oil, and stall our efforts to create jobs and move to a clean-energy economy."

Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell denounced EPA action as a "blatant power grab" stemming from Democratic inability to push through a comprehensive energy bill, which he branded as a new tax measure.

"Now that it's clear Congress won't pass this new national energy tax this year, the administration has shifted course and is now trying to get done through the back door what they haven't been able to get through the front door," he told AFP news.

The chamber's number two Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin, told AFP that lawmakers faced "a choice between real science and political science" -- the global scientific consensus on climate change versus pre-election politicking.

Republicans said the government's efforts to impose new regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions would hamper big businesses and severely harm the economy as it recovers from the worst economic crisis on record.

Obama has pushed Democrats in Congress to use the Gulf oil disaster, which he says proves the faults of over-reliance on fossil fuels, as a new bid to pass climate change legislation that is mired in the Senate.

The White House warned that Obama would veto the measure if it cleared the Congress.

Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace reacted to the vote by saying the result "was nowhere near a blowout in our favor."  The vote saw six Democrats join Republicans in seeking to block the planned EPA rules

"It is a sign that Congress is not prioritizing clean energy," the group said in a statement.


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