February 24, 2010

Is There a New Era of Environmental “Veto” Legislation?

Posted on February 24, 2010 by Charles Nestrud

Will environmental issues play a prominent role in the upcoming elections? It appears so, particularly if your state’s Senior Democratic Senator is up for re-election, and is also Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and a member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Senator Blanche Lincoln (D. Ark.) cast the deciding vote in the Senate for health care reform, and received the typical “big government, liberal” moniker. Seven Republicans have lined up to run against her, and her $5 million (and growing) campaign war chest. But how will the competing campaigns deal with environmental issues? Senator Lincoln has a lifetime score of 49% on environmental issues from the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental activist group she has proudly referred to as “extremists.” Of the Democratic Senators up for re-election, Sen. Lincoln ranks the lowest. Labels are easy to assign,  but are rarely very accurate.    

The school of thought at the end of 2009 was that either Congress would enact climate change legislation prior to March of 2010, or EPA would enact its own climate change rules to implement the impending endangerment rulemaking. Not so fast. Not only is there no climate change legislation, Congress is now debating S.J. Resolution 26: “Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the endangerment finding and the cause or contribute to findings for greenhouse gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (published at 74 Fed. Reg. 66496 (December 15, 2009), and such rule shall have no force or effect.” 

Is SJ-26 a purely partisan move, with no chance of passage? Perhaps. Just note that Senator Lincoln is a prominent co-sponsor, one of 40 senators who have signed on, one of three Democratic co-sponsors, all of whom are up for re-election (Ben Nelson, D. Neb. and Mary Landrieu, D. La.  being the others). Not all Republicans signed on—Scott Brown, newly elected from Massachusetts, passed on this one.   

Environmental groups have already started running radio attack ads in Arkansas. Even though the ads give Senator Lincoln a “dirty air” label, Senator Lincoln is likely hoping the voters are listening—hoping that she gains notoriety for opposing what she labels “job killing” climate change regulations—notoriety that may improve her standing with Arkansas voters come election time. (Again with the labels)   

SJ-26 is not Senator Lincoln’s first foray into the climate change debate. At the end of October, 2009 Senator Lincoln attached a little known rider as a last minute addition to the current budget—a rider that now prohibits EPA from spending any money to require livestock producers to report GHG emissions under the new GHG reporting rules. As Chairman of the Agricultural Committee, she could pull this one off. Cattle and pigs may be flagellant, accounting for 1.7% of all GHG emissions (more by some estimates). But for now EPA cannot make anyone count up the farts, at least not for this fiscal year (ending September 30, 2010). Whether EPA should, or should not have included livestock producers in the GHG reporting rule is a judgment call, and one that we can all disagree upon. The importance of the farm vote in Arkansas, however, cannot be over estimated. And for those who believe this is just a matter of Southern politics (or “pork”), the same budget bill included a last minute exemption for 13 Great Lakes cargo steamships from a proposed EPA rule to require lower sulfur fuel.

Is this form of Congressional veto legislation a new era of environmental regulation? Some have referred to these efforts as borrowing from the Newt Gingrich playbook. Those who have followed these issues more closely than me will have to answer that one. For now, it’s just the beginning of what will prove to be a very interesting political season. Sen. Lincoln trails the leading contenders in recent polling. 

Tags: Climate

Climate | Energy

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