NEWS PHOTOS of oil-covered pelicans off the coast of Louisiana drives home the damage being done by the BP oil catastrophe. And evidence continues to gush out that the disaster could have been avoided if environmental regulations already on the books had been enforced.
No wonder a growing number of Americans scream at their televisions - and their government -that more must be done to prevent unnatural disasters like these from happening again.
So it is downright surreal that the U.S. Senate will vote Thursday on a measure that would gut the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate other dangers to the environment caused by the "dirty energy" - in this case, greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Invoking a little-used law, Sen. Lisa Murkowski,
R-Alaska, and 39 co-sponsors are pushing such a resolution, written in large part by energy-industry lobbyists. It needs only 51 votes to pass.
Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey are on record opposing the Murkowski resolution, but even with the terrible consequences of weak regulations staring us in the face, it's possible that the Senate and then the House, which introduced a companion bill, could approve it.
Some background: In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with 12 states, three cities and several environmental groups to rule that the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to determine if greenhouse gases endanger public health and, if so, to regulate them. (The Bush administration's EPA had argued it didn't have this authority.) In December, the EPA ruled that six gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, pose a danger to the environment and public health, and that the agency would craft regulations to reduce them. Most agreed, then and now, that it would be better policy if Congress adopted a comprehensive climate- change law instead; the "endangerment finding" served as leverage to get Congress moving.
Murkowski's resolution would use a law called the Congressional Review Act to "disapprove" of the "endangerment finding" and so block the EPA rules. That's right - Congress is going to vote on whether to reject scientific evidence because it proves inconvenient. Replacing science-based policy-making with lobbyist-influenced policy is what has gotten us into the environmental mess in which we find ourselves. On a practical level, gutting the EPA rules would neutralize one of the nation's chief defenses against pollution.
(In Pennsylvania, the need to balance energy extraction with environmental protection was driven home last week, when a "blowout preventer" failed to prevent an accident at a natural-gas well. Natural gas and polluted wastewater poured out into the environment for 16 hours.)
A few weeks ago, President Obama declared, "The time has come, once and for all, for this nation to fully embrace a clean energy future." If
you're like us, you remembered that, at the time, climate-change legislation appeared moribund in the U.S. Senate and sighed, "Yeah, right."
But last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent letters to various committee chairs to say he would push for climate-change legislation before the end of the year. Reid has promised a lot of things in the past, of course, and actions speak louder than words. Still, we hope the BP spill has refocused Americans on the urgency of this issue.
But adopting a "Dirty Air Act," as the Murkowski resolution is known - and, more significantly, setting a precedent that Congress can "veto" scientific findings - would make it even more difficult for our representatives to stand up to energy- industry interests. Even though our very lives depend on it. *