Murkowski Amendment Demonstrates Climate Passions

September 25, 2009 Bookmark and Share

A potential amendment to the interior appropriations bill became a proxy war for the climate change debate this week in the Senate.

The amendment would have banned the Environmental Protection Agency from using funds to regulate emissions from any sources that are not mobile under the Clean Air Act or to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant subject to the Clean Air Act.

It was offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) with the support of Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

Murkowski and supporters said this would give Congress a year to work out climate change legislation, the timeline for which is unclear in the face of health care legislation and the ongoing appropriations process.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007’s Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency that if EPA found certain greenhouse gases endangered public health, they would be subject to regulation under Title V of the Clean Air Act. EPA has made such a draft finding and is about to come forward with a final. Though this regulation will begin with motor vehicle emissions, most observers believe that it will eventually expand to other emissions, including those from farms.

The Murkowski amendment was ultimately blocked by Democratic Leadership, but the episode showed clearly the high passions on both sides of the debate.

Agri-Pulse, which covers agricultural politics, quoted Murkowski as calling for “breathing room in an already heated debate” while Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the amendment offered “would send the wrong signal to the rest of the world.”

Both proponents and opponents seemed to agree, however, that the only way to fully address the issue is through comprehensive legislation that would take the place of EPA regulation under the Court ruling.

NAWG and 11 other ag groups sent a letter to Senators urging their support for the amendment should it come to a vote, saying they “do not believe it is sound policy for the EPA to extend this pending regulation beyond motor vehicles into activities like the production of crops, livestock and poultry.” The full letter is available at