Wyden and Merkley Stand Up for Climate Science

Nick Engelfried

On Thursday both of Oregon’s US senators joined 51 of their Democratic colleagues in voting down an anti-science resolution nicknamed the "Dirty Air Act,” which was designed to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from curbing carbon emissions. The entire Senate Republican caucus was joined by six Democrats in supporting the resolution. While I’m disappointed such a backward resolution gained even the support that it did, it’s good to know Senators Wyden and Merkley are ready to take a stand for climate science.

The focus of Thursday’s failed Resolution of Disapproval was the EPA’s 2009 “endangerment finding” on carbon dioxide emissions, which declares carbon emissions that cause global warming to be a threat to human health. Global warming with its catastrophic side effects sounds pretty unhealthy to me—but apparently Republican senators don’t agree. The Dirty Air Act would have overturned the EPA’s endangerment finding, barring the agency from taking any action to stop global warming. Passage of the resolution, sponsored by Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski, would have been disastrous for federal climate legislation.

Not only was Murkowski’s resolution a stupid idea from the standpoint of climate legislation—passing it would have set a dangerous anti-science precedent. When Congress passed the Clean Air Act the EPA was charged with identifying pollutants that endanger human health, and taking action to prevent harm to the public. The EPA relies on scientific studies to make its endangerment findings, so this attempt to overturn the finding on carbon dioxide was a blatant example of politics attempting to trump science.

To be fair, it’s likely not all senators who voted for the resolution actually understood all of its implications; the mainstream media certainly didn’t. Supporters touted the Murkowski resolution as shifting the job of carbon regulation from federal bureaucrats to Congress, and this oft-repeated argument seems to have confused many observers. What major media outlets failed to notice is that the Dirty Air Act would largely have prevented Congress from acting, too. Any program Congress implements to combat global warming will almost certainly be administered by the EPA; so barring the EPA from regulating carbon effectively shuts the door on climate legislation at the federal level.

Luckily, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley saw through the fog. So did enough of their colleagues that the Murkowski resolution went down in defeat, sending the message that maybe the Senate is ready to take science seriously after all. “The Dirty Air Act goes down,” Merkley tweeted after the vote on Thursday. “This is a victory for clean air, clean energy job growth, and sound science.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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    I find it disheartening that there are actual elected officials holding higher office that would vote for this nonsense. And in such big numbers.

    Very pleased to see Merkley and Wyden doing such a great job on this. Merkley took an especially active role, giving a floor speech against the bill.

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    And it is no surprise that the Republican party rejects science, or that a few stupid Southern Dem. senators do also. This is the party that believes the universe and all the creatures on the planet came into being six thousand years ago. This is the party that fields a candidate in Oregon for state director of Education who also believes the earth was created six thousand years ago and that dinosaurs were walking around with humans, right here in Oregon. Is it any wonder?

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    What the heck is going on?

    Both Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Lieberman eliminate the EPA's regulatory authority of atmospheric carbon dioxide! (look it up- I'll buy a beer for anyone who can research to the contrary).

    I assume both Wyden and Merkley support Kerry-Lieberman...so, what's the big deal with a vote against the Murkowski bill if they plan to deny the EPA the authority, anyway?

    Maybe the answer will be that with the cap-and-trade scheme in place, the EPA won't need to regulate ("yeah, sure, that'll work").

    Or, are we being politically gamed- are the Democrats trying to score political points in hopes that not too many people realize that both Democratic bills do essentially the same thing that the Murkowski bill did?

    BTW, Murkowski's lead witness was Sen. Blanche Lincoln, the darling of Clinton/Obama/Emanuel.

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    Therefore, I disagree that any program Congress implements will have to be administered by the EPA- both Democratic bills say the EPA is not able to regulate effectively on this.

    I just got through arguing with a person from Fred Krupp's Environmental Defense- I was saying their organization should not support Kerry-Lieberman, with the elimination of EPA authority being one of the reasons.

    And this person came back with points as to why she thought the EPA can't regulate CO-2 effectively.

    What the heck is going on?

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      The EPA's purview has been diminished incrementally over the year's thanks to partisan efforts designed to protect corporate interests, it's true, but it is distinctly apolitical to suggest that is is responsible to forgo any corrective measures and instead "finish the job" by edging out the EPA completely. It is, suffice it to say, a terrible idea.

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        Yes, Avery- I take it, then, that you'd be more in favor of a fee-and-dividend approach, whereby a high tax on carbon emissions would be established and, then, the revenue would be distributed to consumers?

        And the EPA would monitor and regulate CO-2 at the point of emissions, rather than attempting to weigh and verify the various offsets that come with the cap-and-trade scheme.

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    two more reasons these two chuckle heads have got to go!

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    Thanks for writing in, everyone. I'd like to address the important point Stephen brought up, which is that there's more than one assault on EPA authority over carbon emissions going on right now. In fact the American Power Act, which is designed to reduce US carbon emissions (albeit by a much smaller amount than is needed) ironically curtails some EPA authority itself. That's something which needs to be changed about the American Power Act; however, there's an important distinction to make. The APA would prevent the EPA from regulating carbon in some ways, but it doesn't overturn the endangerment finding on carbon dioxide, as the Dirty Air Act would have done. In fact the cap-and-trade program the APA would establish for carbon would actually be run by the EPA. The Dirty Air Act's assault on the EPA goes far beyond the controversial limits in the American Power Act. The APA, of course, also takes the crucial step of finally putting a price on carbon pollution, which is a very good thing. That said I'm not defending the compromises the APA makes - I want the EPA to be as strong as possible. And it should come as no surprise that all these subtleties were completely lost in mainstream media coverage of the Dirty Air Act debate.

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      Nick Engelfried, thanks for the clarification. I accept that there is a distinction as regards the APA and the Murkowski resolution in that the APA would not overturn the endangerment finding.

      As for the APA establishing a price on carbon- that is true. But, as the European experience has shown us, that price will be too low to affect consumer behavior (but not too low to affect consumer satisfaction!). The cap-and-trade will be unable to put the necessary higher price on carbon because if consumer behavior were dramatically affected and people really stasrted using a lot less fuel, the carbon trading market would collapse, as the value of the commdity being traded would have collapsed.

      I'm sorry, but we are in the process of locking ourselves into a system of guaranteed failure, with the stakes being the future of the planet. No hyperbole.

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    "I'm sorry, but we are in the process of locking ourselves into a system of guaranteed failure, with the stakes being the future of the planet. No hyperbole."

    Please. Please model if all Oregonians died tomorrow, then model if all Americans died tomorrow. What effect would that have on your 1C rise? Zero? What we are locking ourselves into is a guaranteed ECONOMIC failure, and damn soon, and the freaking climate will not matter one whit.

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    No, Dave Hayes, not at all- with the solution that is recommended by Dr. James Hansen, the fee-and-dividend approach, lower income people could actually see an increase in disposable income if they cut their CO-2 footprints. And, of course, in order to run a capitalist economy, you have to have a lot of people with disposable income.

    Anyway, it seems you contend that there could be a vital economy under significantly changed climactic conditions, which is obviously fallacious.

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    Dave Hayes, I recommend you read Dr. Hansen's book, "Storms Of My Grandchildren". See if you can dispute the science in it.

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