Murkowski Guns for Clean Air Act

Arm in arm with lobbyists, senator aims to gut landmark law

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<Update, Jan. 21>: Sen. Murkowski today declared her plan to exempt polluters from the Clean Air Act. She intends to use a little-known legislative maneuver to nullify the EPA’s recent determination that greenhouse gases threaten public health. This move would restrict the Clean Air Act, a powerful and effective law, from being used to hold polluters accountable for their global warming emissions. Earthjustice’s Sarah Saylor condemned Murkowski’s gambit.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is on a mission, legislative guns blazing, to shoot holes through the Clean Air Act—one of our nation’s strongest and most successful environmental laws. If she prevails, we may lose one of the best tools we have to reduce global warming pollution. Senators may have to decide as soon as Jan. 20 whether to join her.

Industry lobbyists already have. In her scheme to bring down the Clean Air Act, Murkowski’s script has been written by a pair of well-connected industry lobbyists whose clients include major coal-burning utilities like Duke Energy and the Southern Company. The Washington Post reports that both lobbyists, who were high-level officials at EPA under George W. Bush, even participated in a closed-door meeting last September to explain details of Murkowski’s plan to the staffers of some centrist Democrats.

Their alliance threatens to undermine one of the most important environmental safeguards our nation has. The Clean Air Act has a proven track record over nearly 40 years of saving lives by reducing dangerous pollution. The EPA reported in 2007 that since 1980, the Clean Air Act has helped reduce lead pollution by 92 percent; ozone pollution by 25 percent; carbon monoxide pollution by 79 percent; and sulfur dioxide by 71 percent. These pollutants can damage the nervous system, aggravate chronic heart and lung disease and asthma, and cause breathing problems.

But Sen. Murkowski and her allies want to transport us back to an era when large polluters had carte blanche to use our air as their dumpster.

At a time when our nation is making great progress towards reducing harmful pollution, we need to ensure that powerful tools like the Clean Air Act are preserved and strengthened, not cast aside to satisfy the bottom lines of large polluters. Not surprisingly, these polluters happen to be some of the same companies filling Sen. Murkowski’s campaign coffers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Murkowski is currently the top recipient of financial support from the electric utility industry for the 2009-2010 election cycle.

If Sen. Murkowski succeeds, big polluters will cheer, but our health—and the planet’s health—will suffer. So, too, will the ability of the EPA to reduce global warming pollution from some of the worst offenders, like coal-fired power plants. Moreover, her success could pave the way for further erosions of the laws that protect us from pollution.

Our senators will choose either to stand up for the health of their constituents and the effectiveness of our environmental laws or to allow polluters to poison our air unchallenged, no matter the consequences. Please take a moment to contact your senators this week and urge them to oppose Sen. Murkowski’s plans to undermine the Clean Air Act.

The Senate has important work to do, but entertaining Sen. Murkowski’s wrongheaded efforts to tear apart the Clean Air Act shouldn’t be on the agenda.

Trip Van Noppen served as Earthjustice’s president from 2008 until he retired in 2018. A North Carolina native, Trip said of his experience: “Serving as the steward of Earthjustice for the last decade has been the greatest honor of my life.”