After all of the debate was over, both on the Senate floor and in the press, it boiled down to a party line vote – again, with six Democrats crossing over to vote for the other side. As Jim Abrams of The Associated Press reported:
The defeated resolution would have denied the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to move ahead with [its] rules [requiring permits for greenhouse gas emissions (“the tailoring rule”)], crafted under the federal Clean Air Act. With President Barack Obama’s broader clean energy legislation struggling to gain a foothold in the Senate, the vote took on greater significance as a signal of where lawmakers stand on dealing with climate change.
Despite Sen. Murkowski’s widely publicized claims that the EPA’s “tailoring rule” “would be an unprecedented – unprecedented – power grab” and claiming that “millions of residential buildings, schools and businesses found in every town in America would shoulder the new costs from cutting carbon,” the EPA was very careful to exclude small sources of greenhouse gas emissions by setting the threshold for reporting at 25,000 tons per year.
Some pundits are now arguing that the vote signals support for the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham energy-climate bill, although that support might be in the form of a compromise. This vote may allow “green-leaning” Republicans to get back into the game and negotiate even greater provisions on behalf of their constituents in return for offering the decisive votes needed to support passage.
Also on the agenda is Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (one of the six Democratic defectors) bill that would postpone the EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act for two years. Presumably, this would give the Congress enough to time to work out a legislative fix for greenhouse gas emissions. This compromise measure has much broader support than the Murkowski resolution. Sen. James Webb, a Democratic Senator from Virginia who voted against the Murkowski resolution, said that he would support the Rockefeller legislation: “I do not believe that Congress should cede its authority over an issue as important as climate change to unelected officials of the Executive Branch.”
While the dust may be settling on the Murkowski resolution, EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is still in up in the air.