Yesterday afternoon, Sen. Jim Webb’s office put out a press release (see the full thing on the “flip”) calling for a vote on the “Rockefeller Amendment to Delay EPA Greenhouse Gas Regulations.” Needless to say, I strongly disagree with Jim Webb that any delay in taking aggressive, comprehensive action on clean energy and climate change makes any sense whatsoever. There are three main reasons we need to act immediately, not delay a minute longer:
1) the scientific evidence of dangerous, man-made climate change is crystal clear and voluminous, as is the overwhelming consensus among climate scientists that we need to act urgently – as in, this is a planetary environmental emergency – to slash greenhouse gas emissions NOW;
2) our national security depends heavily on a rapid move off of our “oil addiction,” which means first and foremost transitioning the U.S. vehicle fleet to far higher efficiency, and also to clean-energy-generated electricity;
3) our economic future will be determined in large part on how rapidly we transition off of 19th and 20th century fuels (mainly coal and oil) and into 21st century energy sources (efficiency, wind, solar, wave, geothermal, next-generation biofuels, and possibly also nuclear power if the cost, safety, and waste disposal issues are all taken care of.
more on the “flip”
Frankly, none of that should be remotely controversial. The vast majority of people who aren’t in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry – or snookered by the constant barrage of Big Lie propaganda that industry puts out (see the Chevron “Human Energy” campaign or “Energy Tomorrow” for a constant stream of lies, half-truths, and distortions) – would almost certainly agree with those three points. I know Sen. Mark Warner “gets it,” because I’ve sat down and discussed these issues with him. As for Jim Webb? Sadly – and it truly IS sad for me, as someone who led the “Draft James Webh” effort and who worked for his campaign – it doesn’t seem that he has much if any understanding (yesterday, he actually said the following words: “I do not believe the Clean Air Act was intended to regulate something as basic and ubiquitous in our atmosphere as carbon dioxide”) – or even curiosity to learn – about energy and environmental issues.
That’s bad enough. But for now I just want to focus on a truly egregious distortion/piece of revisionist history from Webb’s press release. Thus, according to Sen. Webb, the “sweeping actions that the EPA proposes to undertake clearly overflow the appropriate regulatory banks established by Congress, with the potential to affect every aspect of the American economy.” Webb believes that “[s]uch action represents a significant overreach by the Executive branch.”
That’s so many kinds of “wrong” it’s hard to know where to start. Just a few points. First off, the EPA’s establishment (by President Nixon) was approved by Congress, back in 1970. Second, the Clean Air Act was passed by Congress, extended multiple times by Congress, revised many times by Congress, etc. Third, the U.S. Supreme Court clearly ruled in 2007 that the EPA “can avoid taking further action [on global warming] only if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change or if it provides some reasonable explanation.” Finally, the U.S. Senate has utterly failed in its duty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, per the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, the overwhelming scientific evidence, etc. In 2009, recall that the U.S. House of Representatives passed a comprehensive, clean energy and climate law. The U.S. Senate, of which Jim Webb was and is a part, then did what it usually does – nothing. Clearly, THAT is where the failure lies, in the U.S. Senate, not with the Executive Branch (or the Judicial Branch, for that matter). Frankly, at this point, the U.S. Senate has made it abundantly clear that it has ZERO ability to tackle this issue. So, here’s my message to Sen. Webb and to the rest of his “scorpions in a bottle” (as he calls them) in the Senate: on clean energy and climate change, either lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way!
Senator Webb Calls for Vote on Rockefeller Amendment to Delay EPA Greenhouse Gas Regulations
Calls for bipartisan energy legislation to be enacted this year
Washington, DC-Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) today urged his colleagues to support an amendment by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) which would suspend the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources for a period of two years. Senator Webb said the delay would give Congress time to address “legitimate concerns over climate change” without disrupting important progress made on motor vehicle fuel and emission standards.
“I have expressed deep reservations about the consequences of unilateral regulation of greenhouse gases by the EPA,” said Senator Webb, a cosponsor of Senator Rockefeller’s legislation. “This will result in a long and expensive regulatory process that could lead to overly stringent and very costly controls on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. This regulatory framework is so broad and potentially far reaching that it could eventually touch nearly every facet of this nation’s economy, putting unnecessary burdens on our industries and driving many businesses overseas through policies that have been implemented purely at the discretion of the executive branch and absent the clearly stated intent of the Congress.”
Senator Webb also renewed his call for Senators on both sides of the aisle to support and enact energy legislation this year: “I have consistently outlined key elements that I would like to see in an energy package. I have introduced legislation along with Senator Alexander (R-TN) to encourage different forms of energy technologies that would in and of themselves help produce a cleaner environment and more energy independence. We should all be exploring those types of mechanisms while at the same time incentivize factory owners, manufacturers, and consumers to become more energy efficient, and fund research and development for technologies that will enable the safe and clean use of this country’s vast fossil fuel and other resources.”
Senator Webb said he received assurances from Majority Leader Harry Reid that the Rockefeller provision would be brought to a vote. He entered into the record a letter sent last year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more than a dozen other business associations in support of the Rockefeller amendment. (View the letter here)
Remarks of Senator Jim Webb during debate and consideration of S. 493, the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs Reauthorization Act of 2011:
March 29, 2011
I was originally going to call up the pending amendment 215-Senator Rockefeller’s amendment. I’m informed that amendment is at present the subject of some negotiation and a consent package but I would like to speak briefly today in support of the amendment that has been filed by Senator Rockefeller and on his behalf also since he is away from the Senate today attending the funeral of a close friend.
Like Senator McConnell, I have expressed deep reservations about the consequences of unilateral regulation of greenhouse gases by the EPA. In my view, this will result in long and expensive regulatory processes that could lead to overly stringent and very costly controls on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. This regulatory framework is so broad and potentially far reaching that it could eventually touch nearly every facet of this nation’s economy, putting unnecessary burdens on our industries and driving many businesses overseas through policies that have been implemented purely at the discretion of the executive branch and absent the clearly stated intent of the Congress.
Our farms, our factories, our transportation systems, our power generating capacity, all would be subject to these new regulations. This unprecedented, sweeping authority over our economy at the hands of the EPA is at the heart of Senator McConnell’s concern. Ultimately, whichever way one ends up voting on his amendment, that common concern defines this debate.
This is not a new concern for me. When this administration declared in November of 2009 that the President would sign a “politically binding” agreement at the United Nations Framework on Climate Change in Copenhagen, I strongly and publicly objected. I sent a letter to the President stating clearly that, “only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country.”
I have also expressed on several occasions my belief that this administration appears to be erecting new regulatory barriers to the safe and legal mining of coal resources in Virginia and in other states. My consistent message to the EPA is that good intentions do not in and of themselves equal the clear and unambiguous guidance from Congress.
We can see this in the approach the EPA has taken or attempted to take on the regulation of coal ash, on regulating industrial and commercial boilers, on approving new levels of ethanol into gasoline, and, most importantly, its overreach to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources. I have repeatedly raised these issues with the administration and with my colleagues in the Senate.
In examining this issue, I have also reviewed carefully the Supreme Court’s holding in Massachusetts v. EPA. My opposition to the EPA’s present regulatory scheme with respect to carbon dioxide for stationary sources stems in part from my reading of this case. I am not convinced that the Clean Air Act was ever intended to regulate – or to classify as a dangerous pollutant – something as basic and ubiquitous in our atmosphere as carbon dioxide. I say that as one of the few members of this body who is an engineer. To quote one of the most influential Supreme Court Justices from the last century, Justice Cardoza, “the legislation which has found expression in this code is not canalized within banks that keep it from overflowing.” The case Justice Cardoza was commenting on dealt with a different issue, but the Constitutional precept still applies: Congress should never abdicate, or to transfer to others, the essential legislative function given to it and it alone by the Constitution. The sweeping actions that the EPA proposes to undertake clearly overflow the appropriate regulatory banks established by Congress, with the potential to affect every aspect of the American economy. Such action represents a significant overreach by the Executive branch.
Notwithstanding these serious concerns with what I view as EPA’s potentially unchecked regulation in a number of areas important to our economy, I do have concerns about the McConnell amendment for a number of reasons.
First, Senator McConnell’s resolution would jeopardize significant progress that this administration has made in forging a consensus on motor vehicle fuel economy and emissions standards. The Obama administration has brokered an agreement to establish the One National Program for fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards. This agreement means that our beleaguered automotive industry will not face a patchwork quilt of varying state and federal emission standards. Significantly, this agreement is directly in line with the holding in Massachusetts v. EPA, which dealt with new car motor vehicle emissions. Both in the Clean Air Act and in subsequent legislation enacted by the Congress, there has been a far greater consensus on regulation of motor vehicle emissions than on stationary sources with respect to greenhouse gas emissions.
It has been estimated that these new rules, which are to apply to vehicles of model years 2012-2016, would save 1.8 billion barrels of oil and millions of dollars in consumer savings.
That agreement, however, and the regulations that will effectuate it, both rest upon enforcement of the Clean Air Act, which would essentially be overturned by the McConnell amendment.
We have before us a different but equally effective mechanism to ensure that Congress – but not unelected Federal officials – can formulate our policies on climate change and on energy legislation. Senator Rockefeller’s amendment, which I have cosponsored, would suspend EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources for two years. This approach would give Congress the time it needs to address our legitimate concerns with climate change, and yet, would not disrupt or reverse the progress that has been made on motor vehicle fuel and emission standards.
The majority leader had previously assured me and Senator Rockefeller of his commitment to bring the Rockefeller amendment to the floor. I very much appreciate his stated intention today to do so. I hope we will have the opportunity to vote on this measure within the next day or so.
Finally, I would like to say two things. First, let me say I share the hope of many members of this body, from both sides of the aisle, that we can enact some form of energy legislation this year. I have consistently outlined key elements that I would like to see in an energy package. I have introduced legislation along with Senator Alexander to encourage different forms of energy technologies that would in and of themselves help produce a cleaner environment and more energy independence. We should all be exploring those types of mechanisms while at the same time incentivize factory owners, manufacturers, and consumers to become more energy efficient, and fund research and development for technologies that will enable the safe and clean use of this country’s vast fossil fuel and other resources.
The second thing, I was shown a letter earlier today from the Chamber of Commerce strongly suggesting that the only viable alternative in this debate is the McConnell amendment. I would like to enter into the record another letter that was sent last September by the Chamber of Commerce and more than a dozen other business associations in support of the Rockefeller amendment.