Coleman fails to clear air over global-warming proposal

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) wants to be "unequivocally clear." "Our goal is to strengthen emissions standards and any assertion to the contrary is simply false," he said in a statement issued Friday in response to a Minnesota Natural Legacy Campaign (MNLC) press release he claims inaccurately stated his position on reducing the gases responsible for global warming.

At issue is Coleman's draft version of a "Clean Energy Portfolio Standard" that doesn't call for a national cap on carbon dioxide emissions--a measure 81% of Minnesotans prefer, according to a new MNLC survey--but instead aims to limit the rights of states and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish stricter criteria for regulating greenhouse gases.

Coleman didn't specify how MNCL mischaracterized his stance (nor has his office replied to Minnesota Monitor's request for comment), but a review of his proposal, provided by InsideEPA.com, indicates that the non-profit's release was accurate in stating that it aimed to "block states and the EPA from limiting the pollution that causes global warming" by preempting non-federal governments from determing their own emissions standards.

Coleman's draft proposal is controversial for a few reasons: the two-page summary document outlines plans to offer "clean energy credits" to producers using traditional renewable technologies as well as to those generating electricity through nuclear power and goal gasification. (It also uses a phrase popularized during George W. Bush's 2003 State of the Union address: "clean coal," a term that prompted the Sierra Club's Dan Becker to retort, "There is no such thing as 'clean coal' and there never will be.") And it prohibits states and the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing its own emissions standards, while revealing, through use of the word "allegedly," that Coleman questions CO2's role in global warming:

Preemption of State Climate Change Policies Relating to Electric Power Sector

• States, and political subdivisions of states, are preempted from adopting or attempting to enforce any standard or other requirement the purpose of which is to control the emissions of carbon dioxide from any facility that generates electricity for sale to consumers. Furthermore, the language determines that carbon dioxide is not a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act and that any harm allegedly caused by carbon dioxide emissions is not actionable under federal or state common law.

Inclusion of the EPA in the document is tied to a Supreme Court case to be heard November 29, says Kelly Scanlan, director of MNLC. Massachusetts, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al., a suit filed by 12 states, would force the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide as a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act. While the case arose out of concerns about automobile emissions, it would set precedent for utility emissions as well.

"Our feeling is that this proposal is more along the lines of helping utilities and not so much about looking at the big picture--fighting global warming," says Scanlan.

Such interests are generous contributors to Coleman and the GOP: the oil and gas industry has donated four times more to Republicans than to Democrats, and Coleman has received nearly $330,000 in campaign contributions from electric utilities and the oil/gas industry since taking office (InsideEPA.com reports that St. Paul's Xcel Energy has been drawing up a similar proposal to Coleman's.)

Coleman contends his commitment to combating global warming has been bold and clear, but his record suggests a more muddled view. While he's been praised by MNLC as a "strong supporter of increased use of bio-fuels," he voted against reducing oil usage by 40% by 2025 (instead of 5%) in June 2005. And, although he kept his pledge to vote against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he's gotten consistently poor marks from the League of Conservation Voters for his voting record on environmental issues: 29%, 16% and 35% in the last three sessions (in sharp contrast to LCV scores for Sen. Mark Dayton [86%, 90% and 80%] and Rep. Martin Sabo [92%, 89%, 97%]).

"He hasn't been taking the lead on global warming," Scanlan concludes. "Our hope is that he'll take the work he's done on biofuels and vehicle efficiency and take it a step further."

Cross-posted at Minnesota Monitor.

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