WASHINGTON (CN) – Senators debated Tuesday a $10.5 billion budget proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency which for the first time would fund efforts to locate and record carbon emissions, sparking a brutal debate between Democrats and Republicans. “Can you imagine what it’s gonna be like when we actually start marking up this bill? It’s gonna be hot. It’s gonna make global warming seem cool,” California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer joked.
Suggesting the tone of the debate to come, Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said, “The Senate is the last place in America where the voices of the nation’s polluters still prevail.” In the first quarter of this year, energy utility companies spent $80 million lobbying, he explained, but environmental advocacy groups spent only $4.7 million. “Gee, connect the dots.”
The EPA’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, debated Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, is the largest the EPA has ever seen and is 37 percent larger than the last one. Boxer, who is committee chair, noted that EPA funding had fallen by 26 percent during eight years under George W. Bush.
The biggest portion of next year’s proposed budget, $4 billion, would go towards water infrastructure, an emphasis that brought no controversy within the committee. The hot debate came over the appropriation of $19 million to establish a greenhouse gas emissions inventory for potential use in assessing a future carbon tax.
Republican senators said the carbon inventory is a step towards cap and trade regulation, arguing that families and businesses would have to foot larger energy bills. They also criticized the increased EPA budget as a demonstration of fiscal irresponsibility.
Democrats answered that whether recession or boom, the government has no choice. It has an obligation to address the problem of global warming. Control of carbon emissions is widely supported among voters, they said, and would also create well-paying, clean-energy jobs.
“Party of no! That’s what we’re facing here folks. The party of no versus the party of the future!” said Boxer, chair of the committee.
Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, focused exclusively on the economic cost in his argument against carbon regulation. “There exists no legitimate economic argument that reducing greenhouse gasses will not increase the cost of energy significantly,” he said.
Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, said the health of citizens and of the environment is more important than money. As a grandfather of a boy with asthma, he said, he would be happy to pay more to get that air cleaner so the boy doesn’t have to wheeze and get carried off the field when he plays baseball.
He told U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to resist Republican criticism. “Damn the torpedoes. Plow on ahead!” he urged.
Reflecting a Republican Party theme, Vitter continued to press on the deficit, saying Obama has been inconsistent. “He proposes fiscal responsibility,” he said, “but we’re seeing record deficits and national debt.”
But Senator Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, countered that greenhouse gas control is what the states want. “It’s kind of ironic,” he said, “that 37 states started a greenhouse gas registry together because the federal government failed to act.”
“We lived through eight years of an administration that did not believe in science,” added Vermont Democratic Senator Bernard Sanders. “We must address the crisis of global warming.”
“I am delighted that we now have an administration that understands that we don’t have a choice,” Sanders continued. “We do not have options about whether to keep our children healthy. That is a sacred obligation.”
From outside the Senate, there remained substantial skepticism over the government’s ability to bring carbon emissions under control.
“An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study determined that controlling greenhouse gasses will not impact global temperature over the next century,” said Terry Anderson, Executive Director of the Property and Environment Research Center, in a telephone interview. “The problem with carbon emissions is that it’s global. We do not have a global government.”