This vote was on opening debate on a measure by Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that would essentially prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA is seeking to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, the statute that allows EPA to take actions to ensure the air is safe to breathe. In December, the EPA issued a finding stating that greenhouse gases in high concentrations are hazardous to peoples’ health. This in turn triggered a requirement in the Clean Air Act that EPA regulate these emissions. Murkowski’s measure would overturn that “finding,” which in turn would remove EPA’s basis for seeking to regulate greenhouse gases.
This particular vote was a procedural motion called a “motion to proceed.”
Typically bills are brought to the floor of the Senate through a “motion to proceed,” which is usually approved by voice vote as a routine matter. However, if a senator wants to hold up consideration, all he or she has to do is remove consent – which was the case with this bill. Instead, the Republican leadership called a vote on beginning debate on the bill.
In the absence of congressional action on a climate change bill, which became bogged down in partisan sniping and objections from certain industries, the EPA began moving toward regulating greenhouse gases itself. That action by the EPA resulted in Murkowski’s bill, which seeks to overturn the EPA’s actions.
Murkowski said EPA is pursuing “sweeping powers” that “are the worst possible option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and that legislation is the only proper way to go about it.
“It would reduce emissions at an unreasonably high cost and through an unnecessarily bureaucratic process. It would amount to an unprecedented power grab, ceding Congress’s responsibilities to unelected bureaucrats, and move a very important debate, a critical debate, from our open halls to behind an agency’s closed doors,” Murkowski said. “This approach should have been, could have been taken off the table long ago. Yet because the EPA is determined to move forward aggressively and because neither Congress nor the administration has acted to stop them, it is now in the process of becoming our Nation’s de facto energy and climate policy.”
Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the EPA is moving forward because it is too dangerous for them not to.
“If this were eliminated under the Murkowski resolution, not only would it be, I believe, a worldwide embarrassment that the Senate is now taking to repealing health findings and scientific findings, but it would stop in its tracks the economic opportunities that come from clean energy technology,” Boxer said. “Carbon pollution in the air presents a very serious danger, threatening the health of our families, our quality of life, and our natural resources. I guess if we pass the Murkowski resolution, there would not be any danger anymore because we said so. I mean, you know, we can pass a resolution that says there should not be any more rain, and I guess then there would not be any more rain. We cannot ignore the basic scientific conclusion in that endangerment finding. If we were to do this, it would be extraordinary and unprecedented.”
By a vote of 47-53, the motion to begin debating the measure was rejected. Every Republican present voted to open debate on the bill. Of Democrats present, six voted for opening debate, and 51 voted against (including the most progressive members). The end result is that the Senate voted not to begin debating a measure that would overturn an EPA rule allowing the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.