The Three Biggest Honkers from Senator Murkowski and Her Supporters

They say truth is the first casualty in war.  Senator Murkowski is leading a war to destroy the Clean Air Act as a tool to combat climate change.  Her resolution to veto the Environmental Protection Agency’s science-based “endangerment” finding comes to a vote on Thursday.  And truth is suffering.

Here are the three biggest honkers we’ve heard from Senator Murkowski and her supporters in the run-up to Thursday’s debate.

Honker #1:  It’s not about the science.

Ah, but it is.  The resolution of disapproval would overturn EPA’s science-based finding that global warming pollution is dangerous to Americans’ health and to their environment. 

As the vote nears, many Murkowski supporters are trying to soft-pedal their science denialism.  But some cannot help themselves.  Here’s what Tamara Thies, chief environmental counsel for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, had to say in Meat Trade News Daily:  “It would be irresponsible to allow the E.P.A. to move forward on this type of regulation when there’s so much uncertainty surrounding humans’ contribution to climate change.”  The cattlemen trumpet that they have filed suit “challenging the science behind the initial ‘endangerment finding’”. 

There are plenty of others in the corral with the cattlemen.  Last summer, for example, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice-president called for a “Scopes monkey trial” on global warming science, and in January the Chamber joined the cattlemen and a rogues’ gallery of other science-deniers in suing over the endangerment finding. 

Maybe they should take time to read last month’s National Academy of Sciences report, which backed up EPA’s findings rather decisively

“Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

Senator Murkowski’s protests aside, her resolution asks Senators to deny these scientific conclusions.  Decades ago, Congress directed EPA to put science at the heart of the regulatory process.  That’s where it should stay.   

Honker #2:  EPA is going to crush the recovery by regulating millions of small businesses, including schools, churches, and nursing homes.

Senator Murkowski says the endangerment finding “endangers jobs, economic recovery, and American competitiveness.”  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce warns gravely that the endangerment finding has triggered “a burgeoning regulatory onslaught of costly, burdensome regulatory programs.”  Others on the right yell about “job-killing regulations.”   

All of these charges are based on an utterly false storyline that millions of small businesses and other small entities will be subject to EPA’s carbon pollution limits.

Here’s what the Chamber says about the “regulatory universe.”

"The endangerment finding expands the regulatory universe under the Clean Air Act from a few thousand businesses to almost six million. . . . Entities affected are not just power plants and refineries, but also potentially office buildings, small businesses, private schools, nursing homes, churches, and other small emitters."

The truth is 180 degrees different.  Far from expanding the regulatory universe, EPA’s rules shrink that universe to giant-sized sources only – new or expanded power plants, oil refineries, and other big polluters – while excluding millions of small businesses and mom and pop operations.  Schools, nursing homes, and churches have nothing to worry about.  

Six million businesses?  EPA expects to cover only an additional 900 of the biggest new or expanded power plants, oil refineries, and the like that are built each year.  And all they have to do is use the “best available control technology” (BACT) – which means only those carbon pollution control measures that are available and affordable

That’s nothing different than the biggest industries have done for decades for other pollutants.  Each of the Clean Air Act programs EPA is planning to apply to carbon pollution follows the same approach:  it requires sources to use available, affordable emission controls, and nothing more.

A while back, Senator Murkowski claimed that requiring BACT for carbon pollution would block construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline because, she said, there are no control measures for carbon emissions from natural gas pumping stations.  It turns out that’s not true.  But if it were true, then BACT would be no controls.  It’s that simple.

None of this has hampered our economic growth.  Since we passed the Clean Air Act in 1970, we’ve dramatically reduced emissions of dozens of pollutants.  Over the same period, our GDP has more than tripled, millions of new jobs have been created, and average household income grew more than 45%. 

It’s no surprise that the Senator from Alaska, the Chamber, and other industry associations want to draw attention away from big power plants and oil refineries.  So the Chamber keeps talking about six million small businesses, even though EPA’s rules exclude 99.9% of them. 

You’d expect industry groups to support EPA’s safeguards for schools, nursing homes, churches, and millions of small businesses.  Instead, it is business groups that are suing EPA to knock those safeguards down.  That’s right – the same groups that are challenging the endangerment finding. 

It takes a lot of chutzpah to sue EPA and then ask Congress to protect you from your own lawsuits.

Honker #3:  Blocking the historic clean car agreement won’t increase our oil dependence.  

Passing the Murkowski resolution will knock down the historic clean car standards issued jointly by EPA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) in April, with the backing of the auto industry, labor, states, and environmentalists alike. 

These clean air and fuel economy standards will cut carbon pollution, cut oil imports, and cut consumers’ gasoline bills all at once.  They will save new car owners $3,000 over the life of their new vehicles.  And they will cut our oil dependence by 1.8 billion barrels over the life of those cars.  At gasoline prices of about $3/gallon, that’s a savings of more than $225 billion – money that will stay in my wallet and yours, and not go to big oil companies or OPEC countries. 

Under the Clean Air Act and the Supreme Court’s landmark global warming decision, the endangerment finding is a prerequisite to EPA’s clean car standards.  If the Murkowski resolution were to pass, EPA’s standards will have to be withdrawn.

For a while, Senator Murkowski struggled with this, saying that it wasn’t her intention to mess with the clean car standards.  But now she and her supporters claim it does not matter that the EPA standards are vetoed because, she says, the Transportation Department supposedly can get the same results by itself. 

That’s wrong.  The joint standards would accomplish a lot more than DOT standards alone.  How much more?  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified to Congress that if the EPA standards are knocked out, fully one-fourth of the oil savings – 455 million barrels of oil – will be lost. 

At $3/gallon, that’s a cool $57 billion dollars flowing from your wallet and mine to Big Oil and OPEC.

That’s mainly because the DOT rules allow companies to miss the fuel economy standards and get by with modest fines.  The Clean Air Act doesn’t give them this easy way out.  And so it will deliver the full 1.8 billion barrel savings.

And, of course, we’d also lose the additional benefits that only EPA can deliver, such as reduction of the super-greenhouse gases inside car air conditioners.

And DOT has informed Congress that if the Murkowski resolution passes and the EPA standards are blocked, it would take time for DOT to re-write and re-issue the joint clean car standards as stand-alone fuel economy rules.  The way the fuel economy law works, that would force a delay by another model year, costing even more in lost oil savings.

So, another honker busted.  If the Murkowski resolution passes, American consumers will pay Big Oil and OPEC some $57 billion for the privilege of wasting 455 million barrels of oil.  

* * *

On Thursday, the Senate must vote “no” on Senator Murkowski’s resolution, and turn to passing the comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that Americans need, now more than ever. 

Related Issues
Clean Air

Related Blogs