Dirty Air Act Defeated: US is One Step Closer to a Climate Change Bill!

 A few days ago I wrote about the efforts of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to eliminate Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate carbon dioxide—the most important of the causes of climate change. If codified into law, Murkowski’s resolution would make it largely impossible for the United States to respond to the threat of climate change. The push for the Murkowski resolution has been months in the making, with a group of Republicans and key conservative Democrats backing the attempt to undermine EPA Clean Air Act authority.

I’m happy to report that this afternoon the Murkowski resolution, known to many as the “Dirty Air Act” was defeated in the US Senate. With this anti-science resolution behind us, let’s now get on with the job of passing strong federal climate legislation!

Since last fall, when Murkowski began meeting with polluter lobbyists and former Bush administration officials to write the first draft of the Dirty Air Act, a movement has been building to stop this assault on climate legislation in its tracks. Several times the vote on the resolution was delayed, to the frustration of the Murkowski Mafia. Meanwhile the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico brought the dangers of fossil fuel dependency to the forefront of Americans’ minds, making the Dirty Air Act’s free pass to polluters even less attractive. With momentum building to finally pass a federal climate bill this year, the Murkowski Mafia decided to make one more push to discourage progress by voting to pass the Dirty Air Act.

In the last weeks before the vote, climate activists shifted into high gear to defeat the Murkowski resolution. Youth activists swarmed the US Capitol dressed as oil barrels, and let passersby know that a vote for the Dirty Air Act means a vote to bail out the oil industry. Online, concerned citizens flooded the Facebook pages of US senators, urging them to vote against the Murkowski resolution. The phones of senate offices were kept busy with constituents calling in to voice their support for a strong EPA—and it wasn’t long before activists began seeing results. In the lead-up to the vote on the Dirty Air Act, more and more senators began to confirm they planned to vote against the resolution.

As the Senate debated the Dirty Air Act this afternoon, climate advocacy group 1Sky posted highlights on Twitter and kept followers engaged in the fight. Oil-friendly senators like James Inhofe (R-OK) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) ignored science which clearly shows the threats the effects of climate change pose to health and the economy, and defended the Dirty Air Act.  Fortunately other members of the Senate understand the science, and the potential of clean energy industries to create thousands of green jobs. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were among those who spoke out most vocally for preserving EPA authority. In the final vote, the Dirty Air Act was defeated 53-47.

Even had the Dirty Air Act passed the Senate, it would still have had to clear the US House of Representatives and President Obama’s desk to become law. Yet a majority of senators voting to support the Murkowski resolution would have cast serious doubts on the Senate’s ability to address the causes of climate change. Success for the Murkowski resolution would have spelled bad news for a climate bill.

With the Dirty Air Act soundly defeated, activists and progressive lawmakers can get on with the real job at hand: passing the strongest climate bill possible. The Dirty Air Act’s defeat marks the first big setback for the fossil fuel industries coming in the wake of the BP oil disaster. Now comes the next job: passing a climate bill.

Photo credit: Zimmer Power Plant Smoke Stack