Climate Compass Blog

Vote on EPA Regulation Sends Senate a Signal to Act

On Thursday, the Senate defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) “disapproval resolution” intended to prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the existing Clean Air Act.

The vote sends a clear signal that the Senate must act now. The Senate must invest its time and energy over the next two months to find the common ground solutions required to pass meaningful clean energy and climate legislation. The key building blocks for a final bill already exist, and the Senate must seize this opportunity to create a safer, cleaner, more secure energy future. 

A few things are clear from the vote:

  • 53 Senators voted in support of EPA’s finding that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions pose a danger to human health and environment, with many stating their preference for Congressional action but not wanting to unilaterally disarm EPA.
  • Of the Senators voting for the resolution, at least 8 made statements saying that they believe we need to reduce GHG emissions.  Among these were 5 Republican Senators.
  • In total, at least 61 Senators, through their votes or statements today, expressed support for policy that would limit GHG emissions.

In addition, Sen. Murkowski and at least 17 of the Senators who voted for Sen. Murkowski’s resolution of disapproval framed their votes as intended to prevent EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the existing Clean Air Act or about the separation of powers, rather than as statements on climate science.  Following are excerpts from Senate floor statements or from press releases following the vote that indicate the Senators’ willingness to work toward Senate action on a clean energy and climate bill.

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC):  What I propose is that the Congress, once we stop the EPA, create a rational way forward on energy policy that includes clean air and regulation of carbon. … Carbon is bad. Let's do something about it in a commonsense way. … If we can clean up the air in America, we would be doing the next generation and the world a great service. The key is, can you clean up the air and make it good business? I believe you can. Let's pursue both things: good business and clean air.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE):  Now, I have no doubt that carbon emissions should be reduced in the U.S. But not through excessively costly EPA regulations or a complicated cap and trade proposal that could spur speculation that enriches Wall Street, while not cleaning the air above Main Street. …   In my view greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced through a comprehensive energy bill. One that promotes efficiency, innovation, new technology, and renewable energy such as wind and biofuels that can be produced in Nebraska's fields. An energy bill should help, not harm, Nebraska and the American economy as it cleans up the air.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME):  Our country must develop reasonable policies to spur the creation of green energy jobs, lessen our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We face an international race to lead the world in alternative energy technologies, and we can win that race if Congress enacts legislation to put a price on carbon and thus encourage investment here in the United States.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR): There is clear consensus within the scientific community that human activities will have a serious and costly impact on our environment unless we take meaningful steps to mitigate pollution from greenhouse gases. … Congress should act quickly, but thoughtfully, in developing comprehensive energy and climate policies that meet our nation’s needs. The costs of inaction or wrong action are too great for future generations.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME): [I]t is Congress – and not unelected bureaucrats – that should be responsible for developing environmental policies that integrate our nation’s economic well-being as an urgent priority along with the reduction of carbon emissions, and I do not accept that these are mutually exclusive goals. … I will continue to work with my congressional colleagues to achieve our shared goals of fostering a healthy economy while moving toward a clean-energy future by replacing EPA regulations with a system that protects Maine employers and reduces greenhouse gases by the level that science dictates.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA): I look forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to find a better, smarter way forward in the weeks ahead.  Americans want and need energy solutions and more job creation, not overreach by regulators. That starts with real, public debate on climate change and energy challenges facing our nation.

Eileen Claussen is President

Wanted: A Real Solution to an Urgent Problem

This post also appeared today in National Journal's Energy & Environment Experts blog in response to a question about Congressional action related to EPA's endangerment finding.

Let’s be absolutely clear here. Overturning EPA’s endangerment finding -- that greenhouse gases are a risk to public health and welfare – would send exactly the wrong signal about the serious nature of this issue. To take such an action, just days after our nation’s top scientific body (the National Academy of Sciences) issued a loud and clear call for action, should be unthinkable.

Some may vote for the resolution not intending to repudiate the science but to reserve the right of Congress (and not EPA) to set policies to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.  If this is their rationale, then a vote to delay EPA regulations for two years (along the lines of Sen. Rockefeller’s bill) might make more sense.

Back to Bonn ... Again

It’s off to Bonn again, this time for the first substantive negotiations under the UN Climate Convention since Copenhagen.  That’s the hope, at least.

Climate negotiators last gathered in Bonn (home base for the UN climate secretariat) for a few days back in April.  That time the agenda was strictly “procedural,” although in truth the main issue – whether the Copenhagen Accord could enter into the formal negotiations going forward – had rather broad substantive implications.

The Accord, you’ll recall, was the political agreement struck by a few dozen world leaders in the final hours of the chaotic Copenhagen summit last December.  To date, 130 countries have associated themselves with the agreement, and 79 of them, including all of the world’s major economies, have listed nonbinding targets or actions to reduce their emissions.

What the Gulf Oil Spill Tells Us About Innovation

It will probably take some time to fully understand what went wrong in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and what ought to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But at least one thing is already perfectly clear: recent technological advances in extracting oil in deep water offshore have been dramatic, whereas unfortunately the same cannot be said for technological advances in spill prevention and cleanup techniques.

Why is this the case?  Innovation is complicated, but we do know something about it.  In the private sector, the profit motive is a primary driver of innovation.  Because of the world’s seemingly insatiable demand for petroleum products (mainly gasoline and diesel), oil companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in offshore drilling technology (just one company, GE Oil & Gas, reported offshore oil and gas drilling-related R&D spending of $150 million from 2009-2011) in order to reap tens of billions in proceeds from fuel sales (for fiscal year 2009, MMS reported oil production worth $20.2 billion from the Gulf of Mexico federal outer continental shelf). According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), oil production from federal offshore areas accounted for 29 percent of total domestic oil production in 2009. In 2009, ultra-deepwater offshore drilling (drilling in more than 5,000 feet of water) accounted for about a third of total federal offshore oil production, and ultra-deepwater production tripled from 2005 to 2009. Until recently there has been no comparable incentive for spill prevention and cleanup techniques:  the pre-Deepwater Horizon spill record had been excellent, lulling both regulators and oil companies into complacency. 

The free market by itself cannot motivate investment in spill prevention and cleanup technology, because spills themselves yield public damage, not private profits.  Our government, on behalf of the public interest, could have put rules in place that would have motivated the private sector to make such investments – such as requiring oil companies to actually demonstrate that spill prevention technology works as a condition for obtaining drilling rights. 

We have an analogous situation with respect to energy security and climate change.  The free market by itself is driving innovation, but in the wrong things: in energy investments that are warming the climate and making us ever more dependent on foreign oil.  We need our government to intervene on behalf of the public interest to motivate private investment and innovation in clean energy, through comprehensive energy and climate legislation. 

The catastrophe in the Gulf is still unfolding, and will ultimately provide many lessons relevant to our energy and environmental future.  But one lesson we can take to heart and act on right away is that there is a profound public interest in spurring innovation in clean and safe energy and that the private market on its own will not adequately provide it.  It is our job as the public to demand it, and it is our government’s job to use all the tools at its disposal – from regulations to incentives to penalties – to make it happen. 

Judi Greenwald is Vice President for Innovative Solutions

A Big Tent for Fuel Economy Standards

Through a recently signed Presidential Memorandum, Barack Obama is continuing the push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector using its authorities under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). While the memorandum includes provisions for passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and support of an electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the most notable component involves vehicles that have eluded fuel efficiency regulators.

When it comes to GHG emissions and the transportation sector, the elephant in the room has been medium- and heavy-duty vehicles (freight trucks). The recently released memorandum will bring these vehicles under the regulatory umbrella and increase the likelihood that the transportation sector will contribute its share to economy-wide GHG emission reductions.