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With friends like Lisa Murkowski, the climate doesn't need enemies

LAMmugshot_FeaturedPhoto.jpgIf you were to zoom out on the BP oil spill and try to draw some lessons about prevention, you'd probably come up with these: Continued reliance on fossil fuels carries costs that travel far beyond what we pay at the pump. Things that will eventually go wrong do go wrong, and lack of planning makes the eventual catastrophe much harder to solve. When regulators can't, or don't, do their jobs, bad things happen. And finally, prevention is better, safer and cheaper than cleanup.

But that's not what Sen. Lisa Murkowski has taken away.

Murkowski plans to offer a resolution barring the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon emissions. In other words, Murkowski plans to offer a resolution making it less likely we move away from fossil fuels, making it less likely we act to prevent a foreseeable catastrophe (in this case, global warming) from occurring, blocking regulators from doing their jobs, and disrupting one of our best opportunities to prevent climate change rather than scramble to respond after its incalculable effects rip through our atmosphere.

Murkowski says that her effort is much simpler than all that. “My decision to introduce this measure is rooted in a desire to see Congress – not unelected bureaucrats – lead the way in addressing climate change," she wrote. But Murkowski has not led the way in addressing climate change. She has not joined with Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman and John Kerry in their efforts to negotiate a bipartisan climate bill. And as everyone involved in climate-change politics knows, congressional action is much likelier if backed by the threat of EPA action. As Graham told me, preempting the EPA is one of the major deliverables to get both Republicans and business groups on board.

Bar the EPA from acting and you make it less likely that Congress will act. The calculus is as simple and straightforward as that. Murkowski, a crucial Republican vote in a closely divided Senate, could usher climate-change legislation to completion. Instead, she is working to delay action on our addiction to fossil fuels and the terrible and foreseeable consequences. Just ask the residents of the gulf how well that tends to work out.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 7, 2010; 10:03 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Next: Think Tank: The economists strike back edition


What do you expect, Alaskan citizens make money by their socialized sharing of oil profits?

Posted by: Elliot86 | June 7, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse


agreed. Not a bright move, especially right now. Pandering to her constituents is no excuse for idiocy.

Posted by: visionbrkr | June 7, 2010 10:50 AM | Report abuse

every single day, people like lisa murkowski look in the mirror and admire what they see. i just don't understand brains that work that way.

Posted by: howard16 | June 7, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

How does the disapproval resolution work? I know that it only needs 51 votes to pass in the Senate, but wouldn't it need to pass by a majority in the House too? Is its passage in the House likely?

Posted by: slyc | June 7, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

"If you were to zoom out on the BP oil spill and try to draw some lessons about prevention, you'd probably come up with these: Continued reliance on fossil fuels carries costs that travel far beyond what we pay at the pump."

Eh, maybe. However, the same sort of cost extrapolation model can be applied to everything, and is not necessarily the primary lesson. The existence of Bic lighters may include "the cost" of arsonists burning down buildings, but it's a cost that has dozens of other contributive factors (the existence of the building, the existence of the arsonist, the arsonists guidance counselor in high school) and doesn't necessarily disappear without other factors being mitigated.

The cost of fossil fuels is primarily one of energy consumption. If you transfer current energy consumption to coal or natural gas or nuclear (or solar, or corn ethanol), you simply shift all these "extra" costs, you do not eliminate them or even substantially mitigate them.

"Things that will eventually go wrong do go wrong, and lack of planning makes the eventual catastrophe much harder to solve. When regulators can't, or don't, do their jobs, bad things happen. And finally, prevention is better, safer and cheaper than cleanup."

That is very true. And fairly straight forward when it comes to oil rigs. Extrapolating that to giving the EPA the ability to arbitrarily regulate carbon dioxide (Next? The much more corrosive and explosive chemical, oxgyen) in order to intelligently manage the consensual threat of anthropogenic global warming? I don't think those are really the same thing.

That being said, do I think Murkowski is concerned with the EPA pre-empting congressional action? No.

I think she's (maybe) concerned that another unaccountable government bureaucracy will go around thinking that everything, everywhere, is the proverbial nail to the EPA's hammer. And I think she should just say so. That's the argument that would resonate with the tea partiers.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 7, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Disapproval resolution can be vetoed, then would require a 2/3rd to over ride. This is more a quixotic tilting at windmills, rather than an earnest attempt to reign in the EPA. Or, she could be showing out for the tea partiers.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | June 7, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Kevin, that's what I thought. A "quixotic tilting at windmills" is a good characterization.

Posted by: slyc | June 7, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Achieving your goals through hook or crook as been the mantra of the left for as long as I can remember.

And certainly naming carbon as a toxic gas to be regulated is by crook. It is not toxic. It is necessary for life on this planet.

Scheming to get your way and tricking the people into it doesn't produce the same results as if you layed out your case and the America people agreed with you.

It's crooked and they all know it.

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | June 7, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

How many times has she tried to do this? I phone banked with a non-profit advocacy group against an amendment she offered on this exact issue last fall. Seems like she tries once a month, at least.

Posted by: yawgmoth6139 | June 7, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, even though it doesn't look to me like it's very likely that this will pass both houses, President Obama should use this as a reason to have a press conference on climate change. He should talk about how even though the EPA is a good agency, he's not thrilled with them regulating carbon. He'd much rather have the Congress pass a comprehensive climate change bill like the one in the Senate, but as long as Congress refuses to act on the growing threat of climate change the EPA is all we have.

WrongfulDeath, achieving political goals through administrative agencies or through the courts has been used by both sides of the debate, and moreover is a completely legitimate way to address problems. It may not be an ideal way, and in fact may result is bad decisions or bad regulations, but then so can bad laws passed through Congress. The point is that Congress could put a stop to this if they wanted to. Indeed, I bet Democrats would happily give away the EPA's authority to regulate carbon if it ensured passage of a comprehensive climate change bill. But as we stand today, majorities of Americans voted Democrats into office, and they're not willing to strip the EPA of its authority. There's nothing illegitimate about that.

Posted by: MosBen | June 7, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I think Alaskans WANT it to get warmer there.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 7, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I work in support of the Department of Defense, comprised in no small part of "unelected bureaucrats." The notion that Congress and its staffers are prepared to act not strictly as a legislative arm but as a regulatory body is absurd on its face. The SEC, in the wake of a series of financial crises where its ability to foretell and forestall them has been questionable, has been recommended by the Senate for self-funding, taking it effectively ever further out of Congressional oversight. The idea that the EPA is less capable and responsible than the SEC in its area of expertise is laughable. I need something done consistently and correctly - Congress is the first agency I think of. Right. Nevermind about lobbyists...

I also see a number of scoffing comments above basically suggesting carbon is simply a force of nature. So how then to reconcile the fact that we, as a country, manage water. We've constructed industries around it. We regulate it. We've privatized it, even at a public level. We exploit it while at the same time are largely terrible at conserving it. Increasingly with commercial bottled water We're willing to pay more for it - roughly 5 cents an ounce - than gasoline - roughly 2 cents an ounce. The argument that carbon can't be managed is, to me, pretty silly.

With regard to justification of a tax - many of us pay sales tax simply in the name of generating local revenues. Surcharges in the way of excise on luxury goods, taxes on cigarettes, gasoline, etc. are targeted with revenue set-asides. We pay to throw items away - fees for tires and hazardous chemicals and electronics. But carbon should be free? Really? The surcharges on my cable bill that accompany this very internet connection I should just accept because clearly my use of the internet is doing a harm I should compensate others for, or the licensing process is simply so onerous the generous donation I otherwise make to my monopoly cable provider simply can't bolster them under the burden. Really...

I oppose Senator Murkowski's resolution most specifically because she has yet to articulate a specific plan should she get her wish - why turn the keys over to someone who seems wholly unprepared to drive other than if you truly don't wish to go anywhere.

Posted by: 48park | June 7, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

WrongfulDeath: "certainly naming carbon as a toxic gas to be regulated is by crook. It is not toxic. It is necessary for life on this planet."

Fine. Go into a cabinet of pure CO2 for 10 minutes and see how you like it. We need salt and sugar to live too, but that doesn't mean we should consuming more of it is not harmful.

Just because something exists in nature and is necessary for life doesn't mean it's not toxic in large doses--or not harmful to the environment. I have to say I've tired quickly of the "it's necessary for life" non-argument. The question isn't whether it's necessary: it's whether certain amounts are harmful.

Posted by: dasimon | June 9, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

You are right, WrongfulDeath. Obama and his comrades will use the oil spill and the EPA (or Congress) to force us to swallow another job-killing, economy-killing SCAM.

No informed American believes in the ridiculous man-made global warming/climate change fairy tales!

Those brainwashed to the point of wanting to destroy the economy to "prevent global warming" are behaving like the most primitive human beings who were duped into believing that human sacrifices would ensure them good weather.

Human beings don't have the power to control climate! And killing the economy will not help the environment. Poor countries can't protect the environment. Just look at Haiti!

Posted by: AntonioSosa | June 10, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

dasimon, More than 31,000 American scientists have signed onto a petition that states, "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate."

We must stop Obama and his comrades from forcing us to swallow another job-killing, economy-killing SCAM!

Posted by: AntonioSosa | June 10, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

48park, the EPA is now controlled by Obama and his comrades and, therefore, DANGEROUS, as anything controlled by Obama and his comrades, who are bent on destroying the U.S.

Posted by: AntonioSosa | June 10, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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