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The Obama administration faces a challenge in Congress that could strip it of its powers to cut greenhouse gas emissions, barely a month after committing to action at the Copenhagen climate change summit.
An Alaska Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski, is expected to put forward a proposal for a vote as early as tomorrow that would seek to prevent the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
A show of support for Murkowski’s proposal would be a personal humiliation for Obama who told the Copenhagen summit that America was committed to action on climate change. It also threatens to remove a fall-back position if Congress fails to pass a climate change law.
Climate law has stalled in the Senate and Democratic leaders had sought to use the possibility of EPA regulation as a prod to get Senate to start moving again. Democrats admit the underlying message of Murkowski’s proposed vote – that action on climate is bad – could completely kill off its chances.
“It’s a highly political move, and a highly hazardous one to our health and the environment,” said Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader at a conference in New York. “If this senator succeeds, it could keep Congress from working constructively in a bipartisan manner to pass clean energy legislation this year.”
Thirty-seven environmental and health organisations have condemned Murkowski’s effort to block the EPA. The senator has also been widely criticised for calling on energy industry lobbyists to help draft her proposals.
But Robert Dillon, a spokesman for Murkowski, argued she was trying to stop Democrats from using the stick of EPA regulation to force through flawed measures. “What this vote means is that you can’t use this to blackmail Congress to pass bad legislation. The whole approach has been the administration threatening Congress that if you don’t pass bad legislation, we are going to pass worse regulation,” he said.
The EPA ruled in December that greenhouse gas emissions are a danger the public. The finding compels the EPA to begin curbing emissions from power plants and – though widely acknowledged as an option of last resort – was seen as an important “Plan B” should climate legislation fail in Congress.
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