There’s a lot of noise coming from Washington when it comes energy and the environment, but it’s not always easy to know what it all means. Here are a few things that are clear these days.
1. Energy money is getting serious
On Monday, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso joined seven other Republican senators when he introduced a bill calling for a castration of the EPA’s authority to do anything. Beyond overturning the 2009 EPA finding that deemed greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide harmful to public health and the environment, Barrasso’s bill calls for requiring congressional authorization for enforcing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
So what does this all have to do with energy money? Plenty. Farron Cousins over at dasmogblog.com points out that Barrasso, who campaigns in a state with small media markets, and an enormous Republican numbers advantage, has scored $179,750 from oil and gas interests, and another $133,000 from electric utilities, for a total of $312,750 from dirty energy interests.” Several of the other sponsors find themselves in similar situations, including Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) who took in more than $600,000 in energy money over the last five years. While it’s unlikely that Barrasso’s bill will get anywhere, his noise tells us that the fossil fuel industry is not slowing in its march against pollution regulation. Well-funded sound-bite machines and attention-grabbers like Barrasso and Inhofe are simply doing what they are paid most to do.
2. Democrats are going to use health to defend the environment
Let’s not forget that this whole EPA power struggle emerged when the findings came out drawing the connection between carbon emissions and health issues. It seems Democrats are remembering this once again.
Right after Barrasso announced his intentions on Monday, he was strongly rebuffed by Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Both rebuttals included health rhetoric. "The health of our children must come before the interests of polluters,” said Menendez. On the Senate floor Kerry said Barrasso’s bill, "puts the public health at risk and encourages the outsourcing of American jobs."
Perhaps this is a sign that Democrats think they can win on the health issue over the next two years. The party already has to defend last year's healthcare legislation legslation as Republicans try to repeal it. So if they can make it a winning issue and attach the environment to it at the same time, they may be on to something. This would be seen as a risk, considering how divisive the healthcare issue was -- but it also may be reality.
3. Jay Rockefeller is the biggest threat to the EPA
West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller may have the votes to delay the EPA’s authority for regulating greenhouse gases by two years. As we have written before, the Democrat has plenty of support from coal state senators in his own party as well as every Republican on Capitol Hill. When you compare his plans for handcuffing the EPA to the plans of Barrasso and the leadership in the House of Representatives’ committees, Rockefeller looks downright reasonable. He is already on the brink of having 60 votes in the Senate, which is a legislative achievement in its own right. This makes the Rockefeller delay plan the biggest obstacle standing in front of the EPA these days.