Ketchikan Daily News: Murkowski warns: Carbon rules could hurt

Visiting Ketchikan on Friday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski warned that many small businesses could see negative effects from potential federal Clean Air Act regulations for curbing carbon emissions.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski


Murkowski's effort to block the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing regulations to limit the discharge of greenhouse gases was one of several subjects addressed by the Alaska Republican with local media Friday morning.

Murkowski described the highly charged partisan atmosphere in Washington, D.C., surrounding the health care legislation and the "stunning" election of Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special election for the Senate seat formerly occupied by Ted Kennedy.

She also decried Washington's "schizophrenic" and debt-financed attempts to alleviate the economic crises, and commented on former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's new job as a political commentator for the Fox News Channel.

Murkowski has come under sharp attack from environmental groups this past week since introducing a bipartisan Senate resolution to block the EPA from issuing regulations to limit discharges of greenhouse gases.

EPA is preparing to develop carbon emission rules after declaring greenhouse gases as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, a move that Murkowski views as a "coercive" attempt to push Congress toward acting on climate-change legislation.

Murkowski said most Senate Republicans and three Democrats support the resolution, which, she adds, is not an attempt to gut the Clean Air Act nor is "all about" protecting the oil, gas and coal industries.

The potential regulations could reach down to the level of small businesses the size of The Landing, Cape Fox Lodge or fish-processing plants, she said.

"This is about any kind of business operation in the country," Murkowski said. "They're all going to be regulated by the EPA, and if they don't have the best available technology to clean up whatever level of emissions they are emitting, they don't operate."

The potential for this kind of far-reaching regulatory regime is creating uncertainty that stifles business investment while people wait to see what the actual rules will be, according to Murkowski.

Organizations such as the American Farm Bureau and the AFL-CIO's building trades division support the resolution, she said, adding that many American manufacturers and more than half of the governors in the United States have expressed concern about the possibly of EPA regulations.

"So much of what we're trying to do right now is to educate people about the consequences, the impact of EPA moving forward with these regulations on stationary sources," Murkowski said.

The resolution has drawn fire from a range of sources, including the New York Times Editorial Board, the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund and Friends of the Earth Action.

On Jan. 18, a New York Times editorial headlined "Ms. Murkowski's Mischief" took the senator to task for what it viewed as her determination to "throw sand in the Obama administration's efforts to do something about climate change."

The NWF Action Fund is airing a television ad targeting Murkowski, as does a radio spot paid for by Friends of the Earth Action.

The intense, personal level of the groups' ads indicates that the "environmental community is very, very anxious that we might prevail," Murkowski said.

"What it tells me is they need to have some kind of a red herring," she said. "So if they want to say that Lisa is a big, bad supporter of pollution and twist the facts, that's the issue. They're not willing to talk to us on the facts. ... Because I think that they recognize that (the facts just don't) support them."

The potential for EPA "back-door" regulation of greenhouse gases comes as the U.S. economy struggles to regain strength after the deepest recession since the 1930s.

According to Murkowski, erratic federal policies have made it difficult to provide the level of stability and predictability that businesses large and small need to make the investments and do the hiring required to improve the economy.

She said President Barack Obama said some positive things about focusing on jobs and the economy during his State of the Union address Wednesday. It will be interesting to see what policies will be pursued.

"There's a real concern that, as we're trying to deal with the economy, the actions coming out of the administration are not in synch with what is being said," Murkowski said.

As an example, she cited administration support of energy independence, while the Department of Interior adds regulatory burdens and costs on domestic energy production.

"That's why it's going to be really important in the next year to see if we really have taken a different approach and move to the issues that are on everybody's mind," Murkowski said.

She does not support using debt for poorly considered federal economic stimulus efforts.

"Unfortunately, it is a heck of a lot harder to create that stable environment and climate where jobs come about because the private sector has a level of confidence now in consuming and investing," Murkowski said. "It's much easier to throw some money at it and say that you've done something. And I'm afraid that's the direction we're going to go. ... This whole notion that you can solve all your ills by putting it on the credit card is not going to happen."

Obama's State of the Union address was widely viewed as pivoting the administration's main focus from health care to the economy following the politically ground-shifting election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

Murkowski said the Obama administration had focused tightly on health care during his first year because it believed that first-term presidents historically have had the best shot at accomplishing their "big-ticket" agenda items during their first year in office.

But while the Democratic-led Congress worked on the president's health care goals, everyone outside of Washington, D.C., was growing more concerned about the economy.

"The process that we're in is just so totally out of touch with everything that anybody is worried about back home," Murkowski said, adding that there are health care issues that she "absolutely believes" must be addressed. "But when you've got a problem that surpasses even the significance of health care, we've got be flexible enough to move to it."

Murkowski said she'd expected Obama to advise Congress to scale back the health care reform effort and identify aspects of cost and access where Congress can make a difference now.

"I was stunned when he basically said, 'Double down on what you've been working on,'" Murkowski said.

She said the Democratic leadership in the Senate and House now are discussing another type of procedural route for Congress to approve the Senate's version of the health care legislation.

If they do so, Murkowski believes the backlash from the public will be intense.

'It doesn't make any difference if you're in Alaska, or you're in Iowa, or you're in Massachusetts, people do not like this, because they've looked at (the legislation) and they've said, 'We believe it's going to increase our cost; it's going to increase our taxes; and we're not doing anything to help Medicare. Tell me why this is good,'" she said.

Both the Senate and House versions of the health care legislation were approved on straight party line votes. Murkowski said Republicans, the minority party in both chambers, were shut out of the negotiation process for the legislation.

"This is one of the reasons why the partisan lines just got drawn so tightly - everything the Republicans (proposed got the response of) ... 'No, we're not going to move on this,'" she said.

Still, it wasn't easy for the majority party to pass the bills.

The political bargaining to secure the required number of votes was most apparent in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., cobbled together a filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes that approved the Senate version on Christmas Eve.

Substantial differences remain between the House and Senate versions, with Democratic Congressional leaders pondering how to reconcile the two versions for final passage.

Those political calculations were rocked by Brown's election, which cost Reid the 60-vote majority that would have prevented Republicans from blocking final passage.

"Washington is still just stunned over the Massachusetts (results), absolutely stunned," Murkowski said. "It was just so unexpected."

If the Democrats try to move the bill now, they'll need Republican votes, something Murkowski doesn't believe is likely. She also thinks they'll lose some Democratic votes if the process continues.

"There's got to be a regrouping," she said. "So when the president suggests that we need to make another run at this and see if we can pick up a few more votes, I think that's the wrong approach."

She said she believes that the Democrats will have to negotiate with the minority Republicans n order for health care reform to pass.

"When you have to negotiate, you allow the process to get the best ideas from both sides," Murkowski said.

She believes that initiatives focused on things like tort reform, permitting the sale of insurance across state lines, and pooling arrangements that can help small-population states like Alaska, can be enacted.

For Murkowski, the Obama administration has over-reached into areas of government delegated to the legislative and judicial branches, citing the above-mentioned EPA regulations and Obama's disparagement of a recent Supreme Court decision during his State of the Union address.

She also views some of the administration's efforts in regard to climate change as being contrary to the economic interests of the country.

Prior to the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, the Obama administration was "falling all over itself to advance some sort of climate policy," Murkowski said.

"I think they would have been willing to move anything (so) they could go to Copenhagen and say we've acted on climate change - even if it was bad and destructive for this country," Murkowski said. "They were so anxious to please the other countries of the world and demonstrate that, by golly, we're taking a leadership role on this."

The United States must be responsible for its emissions, but taking responsibility and reducing emissions should be accomplished in a way that doesn't "kick our economy in the teeth; that doesn't cause us to lose more jobs than we already have," she said.

On local issues, Murkowski spoke about the need to take advantage of Southeast Alaska's hydroelectric potential, expanding the region's network of power generation and transmission capacity.

It will be expensive to build, but affordable, reliable energy is needed to attract investment and jobs, according to Murkowski.

"The key is going to be how we tie in all of our hydro projects to allow for a level of efficiency and coordination and reducing the prices," she said. "That's our major opportunity here. And I firmly believe that if we do it right, we can be an exporter of that energy resource."

Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, are co-sponsors of legislation that would facilitate the transfer of about 85,000 acres of federal land to Sealaska Corp. to complete the regional Native corporation's land entitlement under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

"I got involved and agreed to move legislation because I believe very strongly that the Sealaska shareholders are entitled to final resolution of their lands as any other Alaska Natives," Murkowski said.

Murkowski said there have been concerns raised by the City of Craig and other residents of Prince of Wales Island about the legislation, and she has encouraged Sealaska to sit down with stakeholders to try to address the concerns.

"It is contentious, yes, but it's not impossible to resolve," Murkowski said.

She was asked about the recent comments by Sealaska Board Chair and Alaska State Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, at a Craig City Council meeting.

While speaking against a proposed Craig City Council letter opposing the Sealaska bill, Kookesh reminded the council of his position as state senator.

"I'm not a vindictive person," Kookesh said, quoted in the Anchorage Daily News. "I see you're going to have your 2010 capital projects on the table here tonight. And who's it going to go to? It's going to go to me. And to (Rep.) Bill Thomas, who is also a Sealaska board member. We have to be good neighbors. There are times you are going to need my help and Bill Thomas' help. And this is a time we need yours."

The comment has been viewed as a not-so-veiled political threat to the Craig City Council.

Murkowski said that, "unfortunately, this incident with Sen. Kookesh and the statements that he made have, I think, deflected from the main issue, which is, is there a way to equitably complete the land conveyances that Sealaska is entitled to.

"And I'm just hopeful that the statements made don't derail the good efforts that have gone on," Murkowski said.

She also was asked about former Gov. Sarah Palin's new role as a commentator on the Fox News Channel.

"You know, I think she's going to be really good at it," said Murkowski, noting that interest in Palin remains high.

Even overseas.

"I was in Afghanistan, and had a meeting with President (Hamid) Karzai," Murkowski said. "We're talking about the mountains and the snow and how much it looks like Alaska. And he says, 'And how is your governor?'"

Source: By Scott Bowlen. Originally published by the Ketchikan Daily News on February 01, 2010