What the Last Two Weeks Tell Us About the Climate Bill

And why we still need all we can muster to take on climate change

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Last week was a rollercoaster for the environment. One minute it was down, the next it was up. First came Obama’s announcement of offshore drilling, then came the new EPA policy clamping down on mountaintop removal mining, new clean car standards were finally finalized, then came the adoption of a key household energy efficiency standard that makes a big difference, then a major setback for public lands with an Obama announcement to stick with a Bush-era policy.

Many of us wonder, will a good environmental decision one day make way for a bad decision the next? And with our eyes on the bigger picture, we ask, What does this all mean for the upcoming climate bill?

Newsweek‘s Daniel Stone posits that this flip-flopping signals that the Obama administration is willing to make some big sacrifices in order to get a climate bill passed. One big sacrifice, and a very wasteful one, would be a Senate bill that strips the EPA of its authority to fight climate change by regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

As we’ve been saying all along, we need as many tools as possible to beat climate change. The Senate’s bill will be one important strategy to reach the United States’ stated climate goals, to ensure that our economy is based on the clean energy industries of the future rather than the dead-end industries of two centuries ago, that jobs are being created, national security is being strengthened, and energy independence is being won. The EPA’s regulation will give us another way to get there—just in case, go figure, the Senate can’t figure out a way to do its job.

And of course, there are a few key obstacles in the Senate that are blockading any progress. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), one of the Senate’s top recipients of oil and coal industry campaign funds, is still leading efforts to prevent EPA from doing its job—the job that it was authorized to do in the 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court decision.

Murkowski’s efforts not only threaten this country’s ability to compete in the the global economy with other more forward-looking nations, but they also threaten to undo the historic fuel economy and auto emissions standards that were finalized last week. Those standards represent extended negotiations between the goverment and the auto industry, who endorsed adopting a national standard.

Two recent New York Times editorials explain why this attempt to roll back history is even worse than complete inaction on climate change and a huge mistake for America.

While Murkowski is trying to roll back the clock and undo progress, others are pushing hard for inaction. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) would like to freeze the EPA’s ability to address climate change for at least two years, and Virginia’s infamously radical and reactionary attorney general Ken Cuccinelli—who is also fighting the newly passed health care bill, is suing over the landmark clean cars standard, and who is trying to prohibit Virginia public universities from preventing discrimination against gays—has filed suit on behalf of the state challenging the EPA on this one. His state’s own Air Pollution Control Board followed up with public reproach for his lawsuit.

Meanwhile, Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) continue to toil away on their version of the Senate’s climate bill. Rumors abound that their draft is replete with industry handouts, and debate persists on the merits of their bill versus those of the version already presented by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), namely that of their "cap-and-dividend" concept and its potential to make its way into the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill.

In response to recent rumors that indicate that the trio’s draft prevents the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, a group of seven state attorney generals teamed up and wrote a letter on April 5 to the bill’s architects urging them to preserve the EPA’s authority on greenhouse gases and build on—rather than preempt—states’ initiatives on climate change:

EPA has taken significant strides towards proposing and finalizing regulations to begin to address global warming pollution under the Act, including reaching an historic agreement with the auto industry, the federal government, and California concerning issuance of motor vehicle emissions standards. Thwarting this historic agreement and preempting existing authority now would be a mistake.

Like Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV), we are anxious to see the bill that the three senators come up with. The troika is promising a draft by Earth Day, April 22, and like Reid, we agree: Time is indeed running out.

Despite all the rumors and the speculation on what this bill may or may not include, we are still calling for a strong comprehensive climate and energy bill that preserves and builds off the tools we already have to fight climate change and grow the economy, holds our country’s biggest polluters accountable and cuts their and all carbon emissions aggressively, and supplies us with a host of new tools for the future. We don’t have time to kill, and we can’t afford to put all our hope in only one approach.

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.