In a very close vote 53-47, the U.S. Senate defeated a resolution designed to block U.S. EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases utilizing its existing authority under the Clean Air Act. Six Democrats supported the Republican effort to block EPA. Republicans needed 51 votes to effectively block or delay EPA’s efforts. Now everyone is offering their opinions as to what the vote truly means.
Background on Resolution
Last year, EPA issued its scientific based finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health. The EPA determined that man made greenhouse gases (GHGs) significantly contribute to rising global temperatures and climate change ("endangerment finding").
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, the so called "endangerment finding" was a required precursor to regulation of GHGs from motor vehicles. EPA finalized emission standards for trucks and cars earlier this year.
By establishing mandatory GHG emission limits for motor vehicles, regulations of GHG emissions from factories and power plants was automatically triggered. Regulations of both vehicles and stationary sources is set to commence next year. Businesses have warned that higher costs and job losses will result from EPA’s regulations.
Test Run for Climate Change Resolution
There had been speculation in the weeks preceding yesterday’s vote, that it would serve as a test of the Senate’s determination to pass comprehensive climate change legislation. Some argue a close vote signified a lack of support for taking action this year.
Senator Kerry took the opportunity to immediately challenge Republicans who during the debate on the resolution stated they supported addressing climate change, but feared EPA regulation was the wrong method. Sen. John Kerry, a co-author of the American Power Act (APA), the cap-and-trade bill introduced in the Senate in May, challenged his Republican colleagues:
"This is going to be the ‘Great Hypocrisy Test’ resolution," Kerry said. "We’re going to see how many of these folks who are here on the floor saying we need to leave it to Congress … are actually going to show up and vote … to restrain greenhouse gases." (from Solve Climate)
Despite Senator Kerry’s comments, the close vote means that Senators are reluctant to adopt comprehensive climate change legislation.
Senator Rockefeller Alternative- Temporary Delay of EPA
Some argue that the close vote signifies support for a water downed version of the resolution. Senator Rockefeller has proposed a resolution that would simply delay the effectiveness of EPA’s regulations for two years.
In reading the tea leaves of the Senate votes and speeches, some are suggesting that there are enough votes to support the Rockefeller proposal. There Democrat Senators (Sens. Dorgan, Webb and Conrad) have already indicated support for the Rockefeller proposal. This from the Wall Street Journal on prospects of the Rockefeller resolution:
Mr. Webb signaled the intensity of his position on the Senate floor, announcing that he would "regretfully" oppose the Murkowski resolution.
It wasn’t clear whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) has agreed to bring such an alternative up for a vote. "I don’t know if Harry has made any promises along those lines," Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, told a reporter Thursday.
"Uncertainty" Will Persist Going Forward
What the close vote really means is that nobody really knows what this means for the prospects of comprehensive climate change legislation. Some argue the close vote means no bill. Some argue that defeat of the resolution puts a ticking clock on impending EPA regulation set to commence in 2011. EPA regulation could put pressure on Congress to act.
Here is my take- Congress doesn’t have the will to push forward Legislation before the mid-term elections. In addition, EPA regulations will be phased in gradually over time which removes the pressure to act prior to 2011. By default, we will operate under EPA regulations for the foreseeable future.