Learning to Love the Clean Air Act

Yesterday by a vote of 47–53, Lisa Murkowski’s resolution that would have prevented the EPA from listening to the scientific evidence that calls for Clean Air Act regulation greenhouse gas emissions failed in the U.S. Senate. That’s nowhere near the the number of votes you would need for such a thing to pass, but it’s also bleak news for the prospects of a decent energy reform bill.

Which means I think we’re at the point where progressive need to start learning to love Clean Air Act regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. It would be preferable to do a comprehensive overhaul of America’s energy policy and construct an economy-wide carbon pricing system, but you really can make a fair amount of progress under the EPA path and try to focus legislative attention on efficiency measures and other things that are outside the EPA’s purview but also a good deal less controversial than carbon pricing. The problem is that there’s a risk that more moderate measures than Murkowski’s could still substantially hamstring this approach. Brad Plumer explains the continuing risks:

In any case, this doesn’t mean the EPA is now free and clear to crack down on CO2. According to Greenwire, Harry Reid had to cut a few deals to prevent even more conservative Dems from voting for the resolution. One thing he promised was a vote (sometime down the road) on a bill by Jay Rockefeller that would delay all EPA regulations on industrial polluters for at least two years. That bill wouldn’t be nearly as drastic as Murkowski’s resolution: It wouldn’t directly attack the EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to public health, and it wouldn’t block the new fuel-economy rules for vehicles. But it does have a much better chance of passing. So this debate will be going on for quite some time.

After the midterms there will be more Republican Senators. What’s more, there’ll probably also be more skittish Democrats. Will the Claire McCaskills and Tim Johnsons and dare I say Sherrod Browns of the world hold firm against a more moderate bill amidst the inevitable post-midterms atmosphere of panic?