Coal Tattoo

The conventional wisdom is that Thursday’s vote on a Republican- and industry-supported bill to block action to curb global warming is a precursor to whether Congress will do anything this year to pass clean energy and climate change legislation.

So, West Virginians need to be watching — especially to see how our junior senator, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, votes on the measure being promoted by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

In short, Murkowski’s bill would overturn the “endangerment finding,” a ruling by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gas emissions “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.” Murkowski’s stated goal is not to avoid any action on climate change — she says she believes it is “a real threat that must be addressed” — but to have Congress, rather than EPA, do the work of addressing it.

Massey Energy President Don Blankenship’s former political operatives — who are now running the public relations show over at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce — are tweeting away, encouraging folks to contact Rockfeller and Sen. Robert C. Byrd and urge them to support the Murkowski bill.

Now, Sen. Rockefeller has opposed EPA taking action on its own to regulate major stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and he introduced his own legislation on this a few months back.

Before introducing his legislation, Sen. Rockefeller was the lead author of a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that — while arguing against EPA action on major stationary sources — supported agency rulemaking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.  Jackson responded with a letter emphasizing that EPA was — for the time being — only acting on motor vehicle emissions, and was giving Congress plenty of time to pass its own measure on larger sources like coal-fired power plants.

Jackson’s word appears to have been enough for Sen. Byrd, because when Sen. Rockefeller introduced his bill a few weeks later, Sen. Byrd was not listed as a co-sponsor. He still isn’t.

Sen. Rockefeller’s bill, though, remains clear on one thing: It does not stop the Obama administration from moving to tighten motor vehicle emissions or improve vehicle fuel efficiency as part of a path toward dealing with global warming.

Sen. Murkowski’s bill? Well, not so much … and the measure is far more broad, as David Roberts wrote in Grist:

Whatever Murkowski says — and her rhetoric behind this has been an exercise is grotesque bad faith — the resolution is entirely nihilistic. All the endangerment finding says is that climate change is a danger to public health. To protest that finding is to protest climate change science.

If passed, the resolution would wreak havoc on the vehicle fuel-economy standards worked out between the EPA, California, and auto companies (and the standards under discussion for 2017 forward). It would also disrupt the very legislative efforts Murkowski claims to support. The cap-and-trade system in the climate bill is run by the EPA, as a title under the Clean Air Act; how can that be legally kosher if the EPA is forbidden from judging greenhouse gases a danger?

Does Sen. Rockefeller want to be on record protesting climate science?

Previously, he’s indicated that, while he favors his own bill, he hasn’t made up his mind on the Murkowski measure.  But The Hill reports today that Sen. Rockefeller now says “he could very well” vote for the bill:

“It is a message about EPA,” Rockefeller told reporters in the Capitol on Monday evening. “I think it will send a message regardless of how many votes it gets.” That message, he added, “would be with respect to EPA’s closing in on coal.”

Stay tuned …