A Senate vote yesterday narrowly allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor and regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. There has been a lot of spin and furor over this vote, but in the end I think that this was heavily (though not totally) influenced by a political (and heavily partisan) denial of climate change.
Here's the deal: The Clean Air Act allows the EPA to monitor and regulate various pollutants emitted by industries. A recent provision, Section 202(a), added six greenhouse gases to that list—specifically, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride—and paves the way to allow the EPA to actively regulate them.
However, a Joint Resolution was submitted by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), basically disallowing that Section of the Act. In other words, this Resolution would not allow the EPA to regulate those greenhouse gas emissions.
The Resolution was voted down by a 47-53 vote. Yay! Interestingly, not one of the 53 votes against it came from a Republican. A half dozen votes supporting it did come from Democrats, however.
What do we make of this?
Those who voted for the Resolution have a list of reasons. They say this is a power grab by the EPA, trying to overreach its authority. That, however, is clearly wrong. The idea of the EPA regulating pollutants goes back to the Clean Air Act's beginnings in 1970. Since then, when new pollutants are found, they are added to the EPA's list. Greenhouse gases are pollutants by definition, so the claim that this is some power grab is thin indeed.
There are also claims that this will allow the EPA to impose a backdoor tax on small businesses, farms, and so on, in the form of permits. This idea has more traction. I'll note that some of the Democrats who voted for the Resolution have made these same claims as well. I agree that there is a financial burden on small businesses, and I am loathe to see it get any worse. However, I think climate change is a bigger problem overall, and it needs to be addressed.
Also, and very importantly, it should be noted that the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate these gases. That puts both those above claims into shady territory.
Regulation is needed. It's a good thing. Regulations make sure industry doesn't take advantage of lax laws and lax law enforcement. One of the root causes of the current recession, and the oil spill in the Gulf, is a lack of regulations and enforcement. I'm all for allowing corporations to grow and to profit, but there has to be some oversight. While the vast majority of private businesses operate above board, it only takes a handful to truly screw things up. That's why we have laws.
But even if the supporters of the Resolution do believe those claims are valid, I still have alarm bells ringing in my head, because for at least some of them this is really about scientific ideology.
About this Resolution, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) came out and said, "There is nowhere a scientific consensus on one of the EPA's findings that humans are causing warming or that warming is necessarily bad for the environment or for humankind." Senator Hatch, that's utter garbage. There is a consensus. The disagreement over this is almost entirely a manufactured controversy, artificially created and pumped up by a religiously fervent noise machine.
Not everyone on that side said this, to be fair. Moderate Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) stated that she understand what the science actually says, and I'm glad—very glad!—to hear that. But people like Hatch, Inhofe, and others make me very suspicious indeed—see the Related Posts at the bottom of this post for a litany of reasons why.
Obviously, this is a complicated issue. We have the real danger of greenhouse gas emissions and the real danger opposite it of over-regulation. But time and again we have seen the far-right members of Congress stomp on science, and I'm pretty much at the "fool me twice, shame on me" stage when I hear them on these issues. And I know I agree with this sentiment:
"The Murkowski resolution gives the United States Senate a choice between real science and political science," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois. "That's what it comes down to."
"This discussion about global warming is now political, not scientific. And this is absurd," added Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont.
As even Sen. Murkowski said, science is what it is—though reading her entire statement, I don't think she actually puts a lot of stock in it. It is my fervent hope that someday—maybe even after the mid-term elections coming up this fall—we'll have a Congress that truly understands that and acts on it.
Tip o' the thermometer to Reddit.
- Deniers abuse power to attack climate scientists
- Climate change attacks followup
- Breaking: Climate scientists cleared of malpractice by panel
- Let them eat fake
- You can't resolve away climate change