Leader Blues

Saturday, January 23, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Who wants clean air?

Our sympathies go out to Sen. Blanche Lincoln, whose poll numbers in this angry climate seem to require her to pander to the most powerful interests in the region, but we wish she had a stronger moral constitution.

Lincoln announced Thursday that she was signing on as a sponsor of a resolution to gut the federal Clean Air Act. She joined Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, 34 other Republicans and Senator Mary Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat who represents a good segment of the nation’s oil refineries. The resolution would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the warming of the earth.

We need not worry that they will succeed. They won’t. They will not get the required majority in either house — even a handful of Republicans in both houses cannot stomach the idea of putting the government on the side of the biggest polluters in the land and against the public. In any case, President Obama would veto it should they achieve that miracle. Still, we wish that
Lincoln did not feel compelled to clutter her record with such an ugly but empty gesture.

Yes, we know she has some obligations. She and Sen. David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, have received more campaign contributions from the big energy industries than any of the other 98 senators — in Sen. Lincoln’s case, some $200,000 for her current re-election campaign as of late last year. (Sen. Murkowski, for the record, is third in energy money.) Lobbyists for the electric power industry wrote the legislation that they are sponsoring.

The U. S. Supreme Court ruled nearly three years ago that the EPA was bound by the Clean Air Act to issue regulations controlling the emission of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, from stationary sources unless it determined that they did not affect the climate and had no harmful effect on the public. The EPA under President George W. Bush stonewalled but finally the EPA last year issued its finding that the greenhouse gases were indeed air pollutants, preparatory to the long process of developing standards for the emissions. President Obama said he wanted Congress to do the job instead by enacting comprehensive energy and climate legislation, but that in case Congress could not act, the EPA was obliged to move ahead.

Sen. Lincoln says she wants Congress to do the job. That is the position of the Republican sponsors as well, but it is a deception. Congress — the Senate, at least — cannot act because the very sponsors of the Murkowski measure will not let it.

The House of Representatives passed a climate bill last year, but the Constitution has been changed effectively to require an extraordinary 60 percent vote in the Senate rather than a simple majority to pass serious Democratic measures. The Massachusetts Senate election Tuesday ended the slim possibility of achieving that vote on anything at least this year.

The resolution simply cancels EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases are harmful pollutants, which would end its authority to regulate them. Lincoln and all the other sponsors, except perhaps Oklahoma’s two senators, say they know that the gases are harmful and need to be regulated, but just not right now and not by the EPA. They parrot the argument by the electric utilities and the oil companies that regulating carbon emissions will eliminate jobs in those industries. Wait a few years until the economy is much stronger, they say. A more likely scenario is that it would create new jobs in clean-energy industries. There is another little byproduct: cleaner air. Is there anyone for that?