A look at the policy process and budgeting: EPA Budget Hearings

Over the next couple of days, the Senate Environmental Public Works (EPW) committee will conduct hearings on the EPA’s budget for fiscal year (FY) 2011. What’s interesting from the hearings is that it provides an inside look at how policymakers are not only debating the issue, but also how they are constructing arguments on facts that best suite their existing positions on climate change. This is nothing new in terms of the political process, but does highlight some of the challenges where science and politics converge in developing public policy.

Highlights of the request include:

  • The overall request for FY2011 is approximately a $10B budget for the EPA.
  • The request includes a reduction to overall agency funding by about $300M from FY2010 while reallocating about $56M (includes new funding of $43M) for programs to regulate and control greenhouse gas emissions.
  • There have been concerted efforts led by Senator Linda Murkowski (R-AK) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.) to introduce legislation to strip from the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.  The budget process for the EPA serves as a forum for these legislators to block, or water-down, regulatory efforts by the EPA.

Nevertheless, from watching the hearings there are many questions left unanswered:

  • Should the EPA regulate carbon dioxide or is it the role of Congress?
  • Why do EPW senators provide such differing causal arguments about climate change ?
  • How does the public perceive the arguments for or against climate change? Do public perceptions matter?
  • How can we redefine this issue beyond the current rhetoric (e.g. partisanship, personal attacks, binary divisions in the global context of “us versus them,” etc.)? Has the debate become too cavalier?
  • Do you feel the EPW and EPA are representing our interests or the interests of special groups who would benefit from this type of legislation?
  • Should government regulate industries over environmental issues or develop markets and provide subsidies for industries to compete in environmental markets?
  • What are some of the limits of environmentalism in shaping environmental policy?
  • Why does Senator Inofe have an issue with political scientists?
  • How important is using political arguments around scientific certainty in order to develop competing policies to regulate carbon dioxide?

U.S. Senate and Carbon Emissions: A Disapproval Resolution

Efforts to codify carbon emissions reductions by the U.S. government continue to be stalled in Congress. Senator Murkowski (R, AK) has introduced a disapproval resolution in order to block the EPA from implementing regulatory measures to reduce carbon emissions. The resolution is a little-known procedural motion used by the senator as a means to block action by the EPA to set emission targets. The benefit of the move is that it allows for an expedited process in the U.S. Senate, limits debate on the issue, and restricts the amendment process.

But the problem for the GOP in using this strategy is there may not be enough senators to support this motion. The way the procedure works is the disapproval motion is referred to the committee of jurisdiction (Environment and Public Works Committee). The process ensures that if the EPW committee does not report the resolution within 20 calendar days, the resolution can be dislodged if 30 Senators sign a petition to have it discharged from the committee. If this is done, the resolution is brought to the Senate floor for consideration and is not subject to a cloture vote to proceed. Earlier headcounts of supporters of climate change legislation (currently at 42) indicate the resolution will likely fail. The likely vote on the resolution would be along party lines making it very difficult for the GOP to muster 51 votes (11 Democrats would be needed) to pass the measure. More to come…