Bennet stands up to Big Oil and fights for America’s clean energy future

Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall deserve accolades for standing up to Big Energy interests to vote in favor of the Clean Air Act. They helped defeat a resolution by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski that would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of power to regulate greenhouse gases that pose a threat to human health and welfare.

Bennet was one of several Democratic senators running for re-election who voted against the resolution, despite the opposition it is likely to spark from energy interests. Clean Energy Works, a coalition of 80 progressive and conservation-minded organizations, will recognize these senators by launching a series of new ads to “thank Senator Bennet and other key Senators who helped defeat the … resolution.” The ads, paid for by Clean Energy Works, will encourage Bennet to “keep standing up to Big Oil and fighting for America’s clean energy future.”

Last year, the EPA issued an “endangerment” finding for greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone under the Clean Air Act. A majority of scientists recognize carbon dioxide as one of the key greenhouse gases contributing to global climate change. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA can regulate carbon dioxide as an air pollutant.

In April, the agency announced new regulations for vehicle tail-pipe emissions and gas consumption that are to take effect beginning in 2012. Plans were also moving forward to regulate smokestack emissions from coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other industrial sources of pollution.

In order to prevent the EPA rules from taking effect, Sen. Murkowski introduced a resolution to nullify the “endangerment” finding and strip EPA of authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Murkowski argued that Congress should retain that power so that regulatory impacts on industry and jobs could be factored into environmental decisions.

Opponents, calling the resolution “Murkowski’s Big Oil Bailout,” maintain that it will allow polluters to continue to escape responsibility for their impact on health and the climate.

Murkowski’s resolution was co-sponsored by three Democratic senators from oil-producing states. Another three Democrats joined them in voting for the resolution, as did all Senate Republicans. The final vote was 53 to 47 against the resolution.

Retaining EPA regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act prevented Congress from substituting politics for science in air-quality decisions affecting public health and climate change. As Bennet puts it, “I oppose the Murkowski resolution because it would gut the Clean Air Act — one of our nation’s strongest and most effective pieces of legislation. Instead of debating this misguided resolution, the Senate should move to comprehensive clean-energy legislation.”

Though defeating the resolution is important in its own right, many activists, like Bennet, are impatient for the Senate to move on to pass a comprehensive clean-energy bill. “A victory is a victory, and turning back this amendment is a good thing, and puts the Senate on record supporting the fact that global warming pollution endangers public health and the environment,” said Dan Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Center climate program. “The only way to resolve these issues about what is the extent of the EPA’s authority and what direction Congress should give the EPA is in the context of comprehensive legislation.”

Coming just as Senate Democrats and the Obama administration are preparing to move on climate and clean-energy legislation, defeating the Murkowski resolution sends a strong signal to voters committed to comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation that a bill is possible.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 71 percent of respondents supported comprehensive clean-energy legislation. They expect the Senate to act.

“A comprehensive energy and climate (bill) done right,” Bennet has said, “will create millions of new clean energy jobs and put America back in control of its own energy future.”

As clean-energy legislation moves forward, Bennet will serve Colorado and the nation best by supporting a strong bill that will develop new renewable sources of energy, while putting a cap on carbon dioxide emissions. He should also push for an early vote on energy and climate legislation because, in his own words, “delay on this critical issue is not an option.”

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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