Budget debate could turn into global warming fight at Senate hearing


A Senate hearing this week ostensibly to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget request is likely to turn into a broader debate on global warming, with Republicans seizing a chance to challenge the administration’s push to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in an open forum.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is scheduled to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday.

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The committee is sharply divided on climate change, as evident when Republicans boycotted a hearing to amend cap-and-trade legislation co-sponsored by the panel’s chairwoman, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), last fall.

That bill, which got through committee without Republican support, has stalled in the Senate. The EPA, however, is writing regulations to limit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions through its authority under the Clean Air Act.

Senate Republicans, along with a few Democrats, are trying to keep the EPA from moving forward through the Congressional Review Act, which enables Congress to block federal regulations. Republicans on the committee are likely Tuesday to try to build a case in support of that effort.

Matt Dempsey, a GOP spokesman for the committee, said Jackson’s appearance gives the minority a chance to press her about recent controversies relating to climate research that skeptics say undermine the science behind climate change.

To regulate heat-trapping gases, the EPA had to find that greenhouse gas emissions endangered human health and welfare. The endangerment finding relied in part on a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that said humans were causing global warming.

The IPCC report, however, has come under criticism recently, and in some cases IPCC officials have had to back off some assertions. For example, the report includes an unsubstantiated claim that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. IPCC has said it regrets the error.
The errors, which advocates of climate legislation say are minor, followed the release of e-mails hacked from a prominent research institute in the United Kingdom that some say raise questions about whether alternative viewpoints were squelched.

Climate change skeptics have used those two events, along with a historic snowstorm in the Mid-Atlantic, to question the conventional wisdom that global warming is happening and caused by humans.

Advocates for climate science, however, say the complaints are overblown and don’t negate the overwhelming evidence that humans are warming the planet, and that the United States and other countries need to act fast to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Environmental activists are also keeping an eye on the National Governors Association meeting held in Washington this weekend.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a former energy lobbyist, is circulating a letter urging states to support the congressional effort to block EPA from regulating heat-trapping gases.
“In addition to placing heavy administrative burdens on state environmental quality agencies, regulating greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act will be costly to consumers and hurt the U.S. economy, resulting in job losses,” a draft copy of the letter states.

Seeking to undermine Barbour's push, environmental advocates noted his former profession.
“The fact that former super-lobbyist Haley Barbour is helping to lead this attack on the Clean Air Act and public health simply makes the polluter connection all the more clear," said Jeremy Symons, senior vice president for conservation and education at the National Wildlife Federation.