Murkowksi Vote Fails

The Senate wants the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases, after all: Sen. Lisa Murkowski's bill to block the EPA's authority to regulate carbon emissions has failed.

The Senate voted it down 53-47 this afternoon, with all Republicans voting in favor of it.

The EPA's ability to regulate was never really on the line, and no one was planning to attack climate change through EPA regulations. Environmentalists, even, want a comprehensive solution through congressional legislation that deals with carbon pricing, preferably via cap-and-trade--not through EPA regulations, although the Obama administration has repeatedly left the door open.

And this provision, which would have halted EPA programs and "stop[ped] the agency in its tracks," as Environmental Defense Fund's Tony Kreindler put it, would never have been passed by the House or signed by President Obama.

Instead, this was a test vote for climate change.

Even there, the implications are murky. The final vote, taken on its face, might imply that Democrats have 53 votes for climate change/energy reform legislation. Four Democrats--Blanche Lincoln (AR), Mary Landrieu (LA), Ben Nelson (NE), and Jay Rockefeller (WV)--voted in favor of it, while no Republicans, not even moderates Olympia Snowe (ME) and Scott Brown (MA), voted against it.

But don't read too much into those numbers. What's more important is the reasons senators had for voting the way they did.

For instance, Nelson's office put out a memo to reporters saying the vote was decidedly not a test vote on climate change, in general.

And Lincoln, in her floor speech, after many positive comments about building a clean energy future, said she voted the way she did because she wants Congress, not the EPA, to account for the federal government's response to climate change:
"Unfortunately, EPA regulation of greenhouse gases does not move us any closer to a clean energy future or to reduce our dependency on foreign oil.  And, furthermore, it is simply the wrong tool for addressing greenhouse gas emissions. 

"Congress - not unelected bureaucrats - should be making the complicated, multi-faceted decisions on energy and climate policy. 

Whether senators voted for Murkowski's bill for that reason, or whether they just don't want emissions restricted, is the most significant question to answer.