BURNETT: Murkowski vote isn't end of the story

Democrats persist in efforts to turn out the lights

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

Source: The Washington Times

On June 10, by a 53-to-47 vote, Senate Democrats defeated a bipartisan effort to halt the attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Obama administration to mount a regulatory takeover of the U.S. economy.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, had offered a resolution disapproving of the EPA's ruling that carbon-dioxide emissions pose a threat to human health and the environment. In doing so, Mrs. Murkowski, the entire Senate Republican caucus and the six Democrats who voted for the bill were doing no less than reasserting Congress' constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce.

Energy production and use make up a large percentage of the economy and people's well-being. As a result, the proposed EPA greenhouse-gas regulations would have a bigger impact over the long term than the financial bailouts and the various stimulus packages. It would have a larger impact on our economy than any single piece of legislation other than, perhaps, the recently passed health care overhaul.

With that in mind, Mrs. Murkowski and her allies simply thought that elected members of Congress, accountable to their constituents, rather than unelected bureaucrats or judges should decide if, when and how the United States should respond to the potential threat posed by global warming.

President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and the majority of the Democratic caucus disagreed, killing the bill.

Had it succeeded and a similar bill passed the House - a big if - Mr. Obama threatened a veto. This is not surprising because Mr. Obama is using the threat of EPA regulations to pressure Congress into passing the largest energy-tax increase in U.S. history under the guise of climate-change legislation. The president wants Congress to pass some version of a cap-and-trade climate bill under which gas and electricity prices would increase dramatically to force consumers to use less energy and thus reduce CO2 emissions. With EPA regulations moving forward, Mr. Obama is basically playing a game of chicken with Congress: "You pass the legislation I want, or I'll do something even worse through regulations."

The Senate Democratic leadership also wants to use the threat of EPA regulations to force recalcitrant members of their own party and Republicans to pass a cap-and-trade bill that has subsidies for politically favored industries. Because there are enough votes to filibuster the climate bills proposed so far, if no bill passes, Mr. Reid, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and others in the leadership will then attempt to blame Republicans when EPA regulations slam the economy. Their argument will be, "It wasn't our fault; we wanted a good bill, but the Republican's wouldn't work with us, and we couldn't stop the EPA."

Mrs. Murkowski's resolution offered a perfect opportunity to stop the EPA, undercutting the Democrats' argument. In addition, no climate bill offered so far is a "good bill," if by good you mean a bill that would prevent global warming without harming the economy. Even if humans are causing dangerous global warming - which scientific revelations of the past few months leave increasingly in doubt - because emissions from the developing world have surpassed those coming from the United States, no restrictions enacted stateside will prevent further climate change. Though neither the EPA regulations nor the congressional proposals will prevent global warming, every independent economic analysis of the EPA regulations and the climate bills indicate that they would raise energy costs dramatically, increase unemployment, reduce growth and hurt the poor.

In short, if you like the recent recession, you're going to love the new climate regulations.

Fortunately, there are numerous other legislative vehicles to rein in or at least delay the EPA's and the Obama administration's regulatory power grab. Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, is offering a bill to delay EPA greenhouse-gas regulations for stationary sources for two years. In the House, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, introduced the first bill to overturn the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gasses. Her bill had 151 co-sponsors as of February. Subsequently, Rep. Joe L. Barton, Texas Republican, and Rep. Collin C. Peterson, Minnesota Democrat, among others, have put forward their own proposals to halt the EPA climate regulations.

Unless and until these bills become law, the Democrats own this issue. In the words of the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Myron Ebell: "[The Democrats] have voted to give EPA the authority to turn out the lights on America. They must now take full responsibility for the economic consequences of EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions." Let's see them try to hang this on President George W. Bush.

H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute with offices in Washington and Dallas.