Oil Spill Invades EPA Debate

ABC’s Z. Byron Wolf reports:

What does the Gulf Spill have to do with greenhouse gas emissions? Nothing or everything, depending on which lawmaker you talk to.

There’s a great bit of political theater on the Senate floor as Senators consider, for one day only, with a showdown vote at 3:45, a Republican resolution to strip the EPA of the power to regulate carbon emissions for endangering the public health.

Sen. Barbara Boxer came to the Senate floor this morning armed with props – blown-up pictures of oil-soaked birds mired in the oil-tainted Gulf of Mexico. She said the images are difficult to look at, but a direct consequence of the U.S.’s addition to carbon-emitting fuels.

“For someone to come to this floor and say carbon -- too much carbon is not dangerous, then I'm sorry, we're going to have to look at these pictures, even though we don't want to,” said Boxer.

Her speech drew derision from Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma. The two are often foils in the climate change debate – she is the Democratic chair of the Senate Environment Committee and he is the ranking Republican. Inhofe today repeated his contention that fear over global warming is “global warming is the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people.”

“She spent three-fourths of her time talking about the oil spill. Let me say, madam president, there's no relationship between this (EPA disapproval resolution) and the oil spill. There's no reason to talk about them in the same speech,” said Inhofe.

The matter at hand on the Senate floor would strip the EPA of its ability to regulate greenhouse gases. The Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are air pollutants in 2007 and in 2009, President Obama’s EPA moved toward regulating carbon emissions through the executive branch in December.

There have been a number of attempts in Congress over the years to pass legislation to cut down on carbon emissions. The House passed a bill late in 2009 that would have capped how much carbon businesses can emit and allow them to trade for emissions beyond that cap.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who offered the resolution to neuter the EPA, said that capping carbon emissions would create a new energy tax and kill jobs. Boxer pointed to the jobs lost in the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone says their side is the one that will help the job market.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, accused Republicans of choosing “political science over the real science.”

And Durbin said Republicans would be siding with big oil companies if they took power from the EPA.

“Are we going to criticize them in the morning with speeches and then reward them in the afternoon by defeating this legislation?” asked Durbin.

That got Sen. George Voinovich’s dander up.

“These claims are disingenuous on their face,” said Voinovich, his voice raised. “First, EPA’s endangerment finding does nothing to clean up the Gulf of Mexico or prevent future spills. To suggest otherwise is an opportunistic bait and switch and an insult to the people of the gulf, the intelligence of the American people and the US senate.”

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, said Democrats want to abdicate Congressional authority to regulate to the EPA, which, except through the President, is unaccountable to voters.

“Who elected the Environmental Protection Agency?” Barrasso asked.

Boxer said the scientists at the EPA are more qualified than Senators.

“Imagine 100 senators, not scientists, not health experts, deciding what pollutant is dangerous and what pollutant is not. personally, I believe -- I believe it's ridiculous for politicians, elected senators, to make this scientific decision it is not our expertise, it is not really our purview,” she said.

The vote will be close at 3:45. A number of Democrats, particularly those like Sen. John Rockefeller, D-WV, who hail from coal producing states, have said they will side with Republicans.

Democratic leaders say they will be able to defeat the resolution of disapproval. But, even if they fail, President Obama has said he would veto the resolution. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would be unlikely to allow a vote in the House.

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