It may be hard to believe that an attack on this country's environmental laws would be waged at the same time it is trying desperately to cope with one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. But believe it.
In fact, a Senate vote Thursday on a backdoor legislative maneuver could cripple the federal government's fight against air pollution and global warming.
The retrograde proposal from Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of oil-rich Alaska to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate greenhouse gases that trigger global warming should be rejected at all costs.
If passed, the measure warrants the veto threatened by President Obama.
With 41 cosponsors - and only a majority vote required for passage - defeating Murkowski's proposal will hinge on the votes of senior senators like Arlen Specter (D., Pa.), who has spoken out in favor of the EPA's tougher Clean Air Act enforcement.
Murkowski is against expanding EPA oversight of polluting industrial facilities, notably, the coal-fired power plants that contribute so much to smog.
Based on recent scientific findings that greenhouse gases pose a public health risk, the agency next year will begin requiring more polluting industries to cut emissions, including refineries.
Murkowski and other opponents of the EPA's more aggressive stance argue that recession-plagued America can't afford to implement tougher, more expensive pollution standards, nor easily cut back on the use of oil and gas to power the nation.
But a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences offers compelling evidence that there's no time to waste in fighting climate change, which "poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems." Delaying tougher clean-air standards will only raise the cost of staving off the environmental risks of global warming, including rising sea levels, drought, and disease.
Environment America also calculates that U.S. drivers would fork out millions in additional costs for gasoline if EPA's fuel economy standards for 2012-2016 are rescinded as a result of the Senate proposal. The tab for drivers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware alone would be nearly $90 million from driving cars that burn more fuel.
The Murkowski proposal would invoke a little-used law by which Congress can disapprove the EPA's "endangerment finding" on greenhouse gases. But that would be an end-run around the best scientific thinking on the real threat posed by global warming.