Inhofe, Markey spar over White House agenda at Copenhagen climate summit

Lawmakers at opposite poles of the congressional climate fight on Sunday offered diverging views of President Barack Obama’s right to pledge U.S. emissions cuts at the Copenhagen talks, and whether EPA regulation is inevitable if Congress doesn’t approve climate legislation.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said Obama should not proceed with his plan to offer a provisional U.S. emissions reduction target at the international talks. U.S. officials are floating a domestic cut of 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, mirroring leading Democratic plans on Capitol Hill.

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“The president can’t do that,” Inhofe said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The emissions reductions he has talked about are what you would find in Markey’s bill, and that isn’t going to happen. Of course that bill is dead, it will never even be brought up again.”

Inhofe, who calls global warming a “hoax,” debated Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who helms the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Markey co-sponsored the sweeping energy and climate bill the House narrowly approved in June.

Markey defended the White House right to offer a provisional U.S. emissions target at the talks, which are aimed at crafting a broad – though preliminary – international accord on climate change.

He cited both EPA plans to regulate under its own authority – enabled by the EPA’s “endangerment finding” earlier this month that greenhouse gases threaten human welfare – along with what he called strong prospects for final congressional action.

“Without question the president does have the authority to make a commitment. Based upon the endangerment finding combined with higher fuel economy standards and other efficiency gains we are going to make including in ... renewable electricity generation,” Markey said.

He cited the collaboration on a cap-and-trade and energy plan between Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). He also mentioned Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who co-sponsored a separate climate bill with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on Friday.

“There is real momentum for a bipartisan bill to pass through the Senate,” Markey said.

Democrats in the Senate, where climate legislation is moving slowly, face a struggle to reach the needed 60 votes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hopes to bring a bill to the floor in the spring.

Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, countered that climate legislation is “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

Advocates of climate legislation, including Graham and Kerry, say Congress should approve legislation because it can include measures to cushion the effects of emissions cuts on American industries -- tools the EPA does not have at its disposal.

But Inhofe attacked the idea that the EPA’s endangerment finding should prod lawmakers to approve a climate plan.

“What they are trying to do is intimidate Congress into passing something,” Inhofe said.

He said the recent controversy over the state of climate-change science, stemming from now infamous e-mails among scientists hacked from a British research institute, will undercut the EPA’s ability to move ahead.

“This endangerment finding, as soon as it hits the Federal Register, there are going to be people that will be filing lawsuits,” Inhofe said.

But Markey disagreed that the EPA would be blocked from moving ahead.

“It is not a question of legislation or no legislation. It is now a question of legislation or regulation. The EPA can act,” Markey said.

“This is now something which is going to happen, and the only question now is whether or not, as you say, command-and-control of the EPA is going to be the way in which we solve the problem, or legislation that allows us to protect trade-intensive, energy-intensive industries, to protect consumers, is put in place,” Markey said.

The two lawmakers also sparred over the climate science e-mails.

Inhofe and other climate skeptics claim that emails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have undermined evidence of human-induced global warming.

Markey said they do nothing to erode what are very widely shared conclusions among climate scientists – he cited the “overwhelming conclusion of scientists in the world that there is dangerous global warming.”

Inhofe, in contrast, said the messages highlight what he calls “cooked science” underlying the conclusions of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.