An effort by by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R–AK) to reject a finding by EPA that carbon dioxide endangers human health was defeated this afternoon in a 47-to-53 vote. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D–CA) called the vote a "sign that we are ready to move forward" to regulate greenhouse gas. But the margin of defeat raises serious questions about President Barack Obama's ability to find the 60 votes he would need to win approval of comprehensive greenhouse gas regulations this year.
"The bad news is that in a 60-vote Senate, it's hard to imagine a climate bill, or even a mere energy bill that does something about coal-fired plants, getting through," wrote liberal columnist Ezra Klein of The Washington Post.
Environmental groups put a more positive spin on the close vote, claiming that it shows momentum toward their goal. "A win is a win," said Conrad Schneider, advocate for the Clean Air Task Force in Boston. "Since the EPA regulatory process will go forward, that will both allow EPA to continue to pursue regulations of greenhouse gases and pressure the Senate to act." Indeed, several members who supported the Murkowski measure said that they wanted to regulate greenhouse gases, including both Republican senators from Maine. And Democrats in swing states or states with big coal industries who voted to defeat Murkowski include senators Robert Byrd (D–WV), Claire McCaskill (D–MO), and Kent Conrad (D–ND).
The 6-hour debate over the bill featured Republicans arguing repeatedly about the need to prevent a "power grab [by] Washington bureaucrats." In response, Democrats cited physician groups and climate scientists that said greenhouse gases are a threat to U.S. health and welfare. "If anyone thinks carbon isn't dangerous," said Boxer, showing a picture of an oiled bird in the Gulf of Mexico, "we see what carbon is doing in the gulf." Senator Bernie Sanders (I–VT) cited climate statistics that he said his opponents were ignoring, but Murkowski emphasized in her remarks that the debate "is not about science."