Resolution Undermining Clean Air Act Faces Senate Vote Thursday

Capitol Power Plant

The Capital Power Plant on Capitol Hill

Tomorrow, Thursday June 10, Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) “Disapproval Resolution” will be voted on in the Senate. If passed, it would overturn the EPA’s “endangerment finding”, undermining the Clean Air Act- which by the way is the most successful piece of environmental legislation- and stripping the EPA of its right to regulate Greenhouse Gas emissions.

Congress has the audacity to claim that global warming is their domain, not the EPA’s. If this is true, it’s baffling that the EPA has been taking action to curb greenhouse gas emissions while all the Senate has done is sit on greenhouse gas legislation.

Murkowski’s resolution, because it will be voted on under the Congressional Review Act, only needs 51 votes to pass the Senate and move on to the House. Murkowski has already locked in 40 co-sponsors and is not revealing how many additional votes she has secured. But while she might get her resolution through the Senate without too much sweat, getting enough votes in the House and the approval of the White House- Obama has already threatened to veto it- promises to be more of a challenge.

This is not the only bill that those of us in favor letting the EPA protect our clean air need to keep our eyes on. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) will try to push his own bill, which if passed would block the EPA from regulating the greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources such as power plants and oil refineries for two years, through the Senate. He needs 60 votes and is less confident about its getting through the Senate, but either way, he has said, he will vote in favor of Murkowski’s resolution.

Russell Train, former EPA chief wrote a letter urging Republic Senators Reid and McConnell to vote against Murkowski’s resolution:

I am writing as former EPA Administrator under the Nixon and Ford Administrations to urge the Senate to oppose any legislative proposals that would undermine the Clean Air Act. In particular, I ask the Senate to reject the Resolution of Disapproval offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (S.J.Res.26), which would prevent the EPA from acting on that agency’s endangerment finding and the cause or contribute findings for greenhouse gases.

For 40 years, the Clean Air Act has protected the health and welfare of the American people, saving hundreds of thousands of lives while vastly improving the quality of the air we breathe. The economic benefits provided by the Act have exceeded its costs by between 10 to 100 times over.

Despite the law’s impressive track record, S.J.Res.26 would rollback Clean Air Act protections and prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions, notwithstanding the agency’s scientific determination that these pollutants endanger human health and welfare. If passed, this resolution would fundamentally undermine the Clean Air Act, overturning science in favor of political considerations.

Supporters of S.J.Res.26 argue that Congress did not mean to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. This argument is inconsistent with the history of the law as it has been applied for the past 40 years and misconstrues the original intentions of Congress. Precisely because existing knowledge was so limited at the time, Congress broadly defined the term “air pollutant” and relied on the experts at EPA to evaluate individual pollutants. Congress also clearly established that the sole criterion triggering EPA action was to be a scientific one: whether a pollutant “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger” human health or welfare.

In my own tenure as EPA Administrator, our most pressing challenge was reducing airborne lead pollution from the burning of leaded gasoline in motor vehicles. Like greenhouse gas pollutants, airborne lead was nowhere specifically addressed in the Clean Air Act. However, the scientific evidence strongly suggested that it was resulting in severe health effects, particularly in children. Under the law, the EPA was compelled to issue an “endangerment finding”, which established a risk to human health or welfare and obligated the agency to begin regulating lead in automobiles…

In its 2007 ruling, Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court affirmed the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, declaring that these emissions “fit well within” the Clean Air Act’s definition of an “air pollutant”. The subsequent endangerment finding, based on the conclusions of scientists in both the Obama and George W. Bush Administrations, determined that greenhouse gases endanger human health or welfare and must therefore be regulated under the law…

The country would be better served if, rather than attempting to fix what is not broken, the Senate instead focused its energies on finalizing legislation to limit greenhouse gas pollutants and move the United States towards cleaner energy sources. As part of these efforts, the Senate should retain the essential tools provided by the Clean Air Act.

Certainly, the Senate should oppose any proposals to undermine the essential protections that the Clean Air Act provides. Such proposals are driven not by science but by political considerations– to stall action on an emerging threat and shield elected officials from having to make difficult but necessary decisions. But as Congress itself has made clear, the Clean Air Act was not written to protect politicians; it was written to protect the American people. I urge the Senate to reject S.J.Res.26 and any other legislation that would weaken the Clean Air Act or curtail the authority of the EPA to implement its provisions.

According to an Op-Ed by Stanford Professor Jon A. Krosnick, based on research by his Political Psychology Research Group, “huge majorities of Americans still believe the earth has been gradually warming as the result of human activity and want the government to institute regulations to stop it…Fully 86 percent of [the] respondents said they wanted the federal government to limit the amount of air pollution that businesses emit, and 76 percent favored the government limiting business’s emissions of greenhouse gases in particular.”

It makes you wonder- if Americans unmistakably want the EPA to continue controlling greenhouse gas emissions, why are these Senators trying to put an end to it?

I’ll let Professor Krosnick drive the point home: ” When senators vote on emissions limits on Thursday, there is one other number they might what to keep in mind: 72% of Americans think that most business leaders do not want the federal government to take steps to stop global warming. A vote to eliminate greenhouse gas regulation is likely to be perceived by that nation as a vote for industry, and against the will of people.”


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.