Senate Votes Against Murkowski Resolution

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Polluting Smokestacks - Alfred Palmer/Public Domain

Yesterday, the US Senate voted down the “Murkowski Resolution,” which would have overturned the EPA’s 2009 findings that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare. The vote was 47-53, with several Democrats crossing party lines to support the resolution along with all Republican senators. The resolution was designed to preempt future attempts by the EPA to regulate large producers of greenhouse gases, which the EPA proposes to do beginning next year.

Republicans fear overly restrictive regulation will further damage the nation’s struggling economy, and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) says the central issue is whether the EPA or Congress will decide how to best regulate the emission of carbon dioxide. (Source: Seattle Times)

The EPA’s 2009 findings seems to be based on the 2007 Supreme Court Case of Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the state sued the EPA to force the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

(c) Given EPA’s failure to dispute the existence of a causal connection between man-made greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, its refusal to regulate such emissions, at a minimum, “contributes” to Massachusetts’ injuries. EPA overstates its case in arguing that its decision not to regulate contributes so insignificantly to petitioners’ injuries that it cannot be haled into federal court, and that there is no realistic possibility that the relief sought would mitigate global climate change and remedy petitioners’ injuries, especially since predicted increases in emissions from China, India, and other developing nations will likely offset any marginal domestic decrease EPA regulation could bring about. Agencies, like legislatures, do not generally resolve massive problems in one fell swoop, see Williamson v. Lee Optical of Okla., Inc., 348 U. S. 483 , but instead whittle away over time, refining their approach as circumstances change and they develop a more nuanced understanding of how best to proceed, cf. SEC v. Chenery Corp., 332 U. S. 194 . That a first step might be tentative does not by itself negate federal-court jurisdiction. And reducing domestic automobile emissions is hardly tentative. Leaving aside the other greenhouse gases, the record indicates that the U. S. transportation sector emits an enormous quantity of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Pp. 20–21.

The case revolved around greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, and how those gases contribute to pollution and a threat to public health as well as global warming.

Cause or Contribute Finding: The Administrator finds that the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare.

However, the EPA is now using these findings to propose regulation of other industries, such as “coal fired utilities or oil refineries.” (Source: Seattle Times)

Regardless of the science behind global warming, or even anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and the resulting controversy, one thing is clear: greenhouse gas emissions have decreased, according to the latest report from the US Energy Information Administration.

Total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2008 were 2.2 percent below the 2007 total.
The decline in total emissions—from 7,209.8 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2e) in 2007 to 7,052.6 MMTCO2e in 2008—was largely the result of a 177.8-MMTCO2e drop in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. There were small percentage increases in emissions of other greenhouse gases, but their absolute contributions to the change in total emissions were relatively small: 14.8 MMTCO22e growth for methane (CH4), 0.4 MMTCO2e growth for nitrous oxide (N2O), and 5.4 MMTCO2e growth for the man-made gases with high global warming potentials (high-GWP gases). As a result, the increases in emissions of these gases were more than offset by the drop in CO2 emissions.

The EIA does expect CO2 emissions to increase slightly over the next two years, but emissions will still be below the period from 1999-2008. (Source: EIA)

Forecast economic growth combined with increased use of coal in the electric power sector contribute to increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels of 2.9 percent and 1.4 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively (U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Growth Chart).  Increased demand for petroleum in the transportation sector (motor gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel) also contributes to the increases in fossil-fuel CO2 emissions. However, even with increases in 2010 and 2011, projected CO2 emissions are lower than annual emissions were from 1999 through 2008.

And, while scientists are concerned that vehicles aren’t running as efficiently as designed, even the EPA admits emissions by vehicles have been reduced, though it states reducing carbon dioxide emissions will be necessary in the future. (Source: EPA – PDF Document)

Efforts by government and industry since 1970 have greatly reduced typical vehicle emissions.  In those same years, however, the number of miles we drive has more than doubled.  The increase in travel has offset much of the emission control progress. The net result is a modest reduction in each automotive pollutant except lead, for which
aggregate emissions have dropped by more than 95 percent.

All of this isn’t to say we shouldn’t look for cleaner energy alternatives, but does it make sense to burden a struggling (to grossly understate) economy with another increase in governmental control that will ultimately be paid for by Joe Citizen? A car can only be so small and so light before it becomes incredibly dangerous to drive. Fossil fuel and power companies can only be taxed and regulated so much before it is no longer worthwhile to do business.

But, perhaps it’s not just about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, after all.

In proposing the finding, [EPA] Administrator Jackson also took into account the disproportionate impact climate change has on the health of certain segments of the population, such as the poor, the very young, the elderly, those already in poor health, the disabled, those living alone and/or indigenous populations dependent on one or a few resources.

Sounds like “social justice” to me.

Murkowski is right: Congress should be deciding this issue, not Obama administration appointed officials. And, with the validity of global warming science changing almost daily, maybe it’s time we sit back and wait for a while before deciding to increase energy costs by billions of dollars.

Perhaps that is why there are 10 different petitions to the EPA’s Clear Air Act policy.

On the other hand, when we’re so heavily taxed and overly regulated we’re all living on the street, that extra-clean air sure will seem nice.

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