Senate ‘Political Gamesmanship’ Killed In Close Vote, Pressure On To Pass Climate Bill

Having beaten back an attempt to derail new climate regulation in what became a surprisingly close vote, advocates of such regulation are now calling for the Senate to approve comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

The Senate Thursday defeated a Republican-led proposal to bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from moving forward with its plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Although Democrats continue to hold a lopsided majority in the Senate, six of their ranks joined a united GOP. The result: Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s “disapproval resolution” went down to defeat by only a 47-53 margin. Murkowski, of Alaska, is the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The vote was so close that in the hours leading up to the vote, Organizing for America, the Democratic advocacy group built out of President Obama’s 2008 campaign operation, emailed supporters in a rare plea for immediate, rapid-response phone calls to senators to push for defeat. The White House, too, had issued a rare veto threat had Murkowski’s proposal passed.

Murkowski’s bill would have blocked the EPA from moving forward with its plans to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, a power granted the agency by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling.

Those who want action to contain emissions, so as to deal with climate change hailed the defeat of Murkowski’s measure but put pressure on senators to approve legislation that would regulate emissions in lieu of EPA action.

“While it is great the Senate has put energy legislation on the floor, it is unfortunate that political gamesmanship is still at center stage,” says Jeff Anderson of We Can Lead and the executive director of the Clean Economy Network, business-backed organizations that support climate legislation. “This attempt to thwart the regulation of greenhouse gases has been an unwarranted distraction from the important work to advance comprehensive energy and climate legislation that puts a price on carbon, unleashes innovation, creates millions of American jobs and lessens our over-reliance on oil.

“The outflow pipe at the bottom of the Gulf reminds us every second about the need for the Senate to put aside the partisan differences to create a comprehensive energy policy that accelerates our transition to a clean energy economy and diversifies our energy supply,” Anderson adds. “Now is the time to put America back in control of our energy future. It’s time to finish what we started.”

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), whose American Power Act is the only major energy and climate bill currently before the Senate, hailed the defeat of the Murkowski resolution in a joint statement. They added, however, that the rhetoric that even proponents of the Murkowski legislation used indicates that they should back their bill.

“The Senate made the right decision today but the big question is what comes now. Many supporters of the Murkowski resolution argued passionately that climate change is real but that addressing it is a job for Congress not the EPA. We hope they will now engage with us to pass our pro-business, pro-jobs approach so the EPA doesn’t have to do the job that the Senate has failed to do,” Kerry and Lieberman say in a joint statement. “We have an unprecedented coalition of business supporters standing behind our bill, including many who have successfully killed previous legislation. They know that the American Power Act is not your grandfather’s climate bill. It contains business incentives and provisions that non-partisan analysts agree will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, protect consumers, and put us on a path towards energy independence. Now we face a test of whether the Senate can do what even the Murkowski resolution’s proponents said we should be doing.”

Kerry and Lieberman will need at least some Republican support for their bill to overcome a threat of filibuster — particularly if a number of Democrats once again side with conservatives on the climate issue.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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