Lisa Murkowski proposes to fiddle while Alaska burns

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) wants to put the brakes on the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to curb climate change by barring the agency from spending any funds on regulating carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, manufacturers, and other major emissions sources. She’s asking for a one-year “timeout” so Congress can pass new legislation, despite the fact that they’ve known since April 2007 that EPA regulations were coming down the pike.

What makes this move all the more stunning is that Murkowski is painfully aware of how her state is being radically and rapidly ruined by climate change. Indeed, in a 2006 speech on the subject (video here, and it’s better than the prepared remarks), she described some of the worst impacts — including devastating wildfires:

one area that I believe we cannot lose focus on is the human dimension. Our policies of today, and our policies of tomorrow, have a direct impact on those who live in the Arctic region….

When I visit the Native villages in northern Alaska, I ask the village elders what climate change means to them. They don’t speak about the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or attempt to debunk the now infamous hockey stick theory.


They tell me what they have personally observed over the years. Native whaling captains tell me that the ice pack is less stable, and that there is more open water requiring them to travel greater distances to hunt. The snow pack is coming later and melting earlier than in years past. Salmon are showing up in subsistence nets in greater numbers across the arctic. Different types of vegetation now grow where they never grew before. The migratory patterns of animals have changed. Warmer, drier air, has allowed the voracious spruce bark beetle to migrate north, moving through our forests in the south-central part of the state. At last count, over three million acres of forest land has been devastated by the beetle, providing dry fuel for outbreaks of enormous wild fires. To give you some perspective, that is almost the size of Connecticut.

So we recognize that times have changed, things are changing, and we need a new Arctic policy.

Well, apparently her new Arctic policy is to delay the EPA from doing its job and regulating CO2. I seriously hope this means she will be voting for the climate and clean energy bill, since otherwise it would mean that her new Arctic policy is the same as the old one — do nothing and let the whole damn thing melt and burn (see “M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F”).

Below is a guest column by Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, first published here.

Why is Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) behaving like an outlaw? It’s jarring to learn that Sen. Murkowski wants to take away U.S. Environmental Protection Agency authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries, coal-burning power plants and other smokestack industries. As reported in Environment and Energy Daily, Murkowski has filed a proposed amendment to spending legislation for EPA that would prohibit the agency from regulating greenhouse pollutants except those from cars or other “mobile” sources:

“Senator Murkowski is concerned about the economic consequences of EPA command-and-control regulation of emissions,” said spokesman Robert Dillon. The senator plans to file the amendment, Dillon said, adding that he did not know whether a decision has been made to press for a vote.

Murkowski’s amendment would thwart the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that said EPA does have authority under the Clean Air Act to deal with climate pollution, as long as the agency determines that it is a threat to health and/or the environment. EPA is moving ahead with that determination. Because the judicial branch has spoken so definitively, EPA must follow the law. By trying to block the agency through such a sneaky, back-door approach, Murkowski is bidding to become a climate outlaw.

The weird part here is that Murkowski herself has warned about the impact of global warming on Alaska “” where, as Politico put it earlier this year, “the Alaskan tundra thaws and fishing villages disappear into the ocean.” USA Today once called Alaska the “poster state” for climate concerns.

And no wonder: Alaska’s climate has warmed about 4°F since the 1950’s. That has prompted more rain, the melting of two major glaciers and permafrost melting which has caused erosion, landslides and damaged infrastructure. Some coastal towns could be overwhelmed by flooding. Carbon-caused ocean acidification threatens fish populations.

Grotesque evidence of the problem was recently reported as scientists determined the Arctic sea ice had reached the third lowest-level ever recorded: up to 200 walruses, which appear to be mostly new calves and yearlings, were reported dead near Icy Cape on the north coast of Alaska.

We can’t wait to hear Murkowski’s argument should she proceed with this ill-considered idea. Is she going to claim that this is something better handled by Congress? If so, why has she denounced the comprehensive climate legislation approved by the House? We suspect Murkowski is responding to the big campaign contributions she has received from the oil and electric power industries, both of which oppose EPA action. One major contributor is ExxonMobil, which continues to operate in Alaska despite its notoriety over the Exxon Valdez spill.

Several hours after Clean Air Watch alerted reporters by email about the Murkowski plan, a spokesman for Murkowski argued she “is not trying to subvert the process”:

The senator has no interest in trampling on that Supreme Court decision as it relates to mobile sources.

Exactly our point: she does want to trample on the Supreme Court decision as it relates to stationary sources. Murkowski has shown no interest in being constructive on the climate debate, so her defense of waiting for congressional action is obviously a fraud designed only to kill the Clean Air Act. Which is exactly what the big oil companies and her other financial supporters want. Her plan to handcuff the EPA is nothing but duplicitous special-interest pandering that should be rejected out of hand.