On Wednesday night, the Senate Appropriations Committee scuttled a politically problematic vote that would have included an amendment that blocked the EPA from finalizing proposed carbon emission limits for power plants. The amendment was to be offered by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to a funding bill for the Energy Department and water programs. Sen. Mark Begich is a member of the committee. He’s been under fire for his alleged support of carbon taxes and regulations.
Heather Handyside, a Begich spokesperson, declined to say how Begich would have voted on the amendment or if he supported it. “We won’t comment on what might have been,” she said. She also said that neither Begich nor anybody else on the committee had seen the amendment’s language.
Don Stewart, a spokesperson for McConnell, said that all Republican members had the amendment, as did the Democratic chair. However, Stewart said that if Begich didn’t see it, he would be “happy to send it to him.”
It’s been widely reported that had it been offered, the vote would have put Begich and Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the other red-state senator up for reelection, in the uncomfortable position of either bucking the Democratic party and voting against rules offered by Obama – the centerpiece of Obama’s climate change agenda — or risk having the issue being used against them in an election year.
The EPA is not popular in Alaska, and neither are carbon taxes and restrictions. Alaska won’t be hit as hard as other states by the new rules, but the state’s power plants and coal industry will be affected. Further, the issue is symbolic of the kind of federal overreach that Republicans have been campaigning on. Republican groups, including Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers’ funded group, have smelled blood and have run a series of ads accusing Begich of supporting a carbon tax, something that Begich has consistently denied. Reporters, and bloggers, including this one, have run to his defense.
However, look deeper and it’s hard to tell where Begich really stands on any of this. In 2008, his campaign website said that he supported “national legislation…to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 through a cap and trade system.” Cap and trade is a free-market mechanism to limit carbon emissions lest a tax, or fine, is imposed. It was not an unpopular position in Alaska then. Sens. Ted Stevens, who he was running against, and Lisa Murkowski both supported cap and trade. Since, it’s become more politicized and Begich has since said that he doesn’t support a national policy.
Further, Begich has yet to come out against Obama’s new EPA rules. And he has voted at least six times against bills, amendments and resolutions which would block the Obama rules and the EPA from regulating those emissions.
Begich even voted against such a resolution in 2010. The resolution, much like McConnell’s amendment, would have blocked the EPA’s regulation powers. It was offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski.
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