In its most significant vote on global warming in two years, the United States Senate on Thursday upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to regulate greenhouse gases (Christian Science Monitor, AP). Which is to say that senators who have been unable to find their way forward on global warming elected not to interfere with President Barack Obama’s right to act on their behalf.
Fifty-three senators voted against a resolution by Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski to effectively overturn EPA’s finding that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health. That finding, spurred by a Supreme Court decision declaring carbon dioxide a pollutant, serves as a necessary precursor to any greenhouse gas regulations (see our previous coverage here for more detail).
In truth, the resolution never stood a chance. It wouldn’t have made it through the House of Representatives let alone past Obama’s veto (overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers, which would be even more difficult than passing climate legislation).
Nonetheless, the vote was important symbolically, and those pushing for action on global warming fought hard to ensure its defeat. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change illustrated why in its analysis of the vote: In addition to 53 who voted against the resolution, eight senators who voted for the measure – including five Republicans – expressed their desire for greenhouse gas regulations. Add up those numbers and you get 61 senators who voiced support for regulating greenhouse gases in some fashion. Democrats will need 60 votes to get climate legislation through the Senate.
That said, the path forward is not at all clear. Virtually everybody agrees with the notion that Congress – not the EPA – should design greenhouse gas regulations, but that doesn’t mean everybody agrees on how to go about doing so. South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who had been working with Democrats on the leading climate legislation until he broke away last month, muddied the waters further yesterday when he backed a Republican alternative.
Democrats are still aiming for a climate vote this summer, and nobody is willing to say the game is over. But many think it increasingly likely that Obama will have to exercise his Senate-sanctioned authority to unilaterally institute climate controls, which the EPA expects to begin rolling out next year.