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EPA Actions Under Fire

Congress: Draft bill would take away agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases

by Cheryl Hogue
February 14, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 7

Credit: Associated Press
Credit: Associated Press

Republicans in the House of Representatives have launched an assault against the Obama Administration’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Last week, a subcommittee began work on legislation to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from using the Clean Air Act to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.

Passage of Upton’s legislation would represent “politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question.”

—Lisa Jackson

The GOP is focusing on an Obama Administration decision to regulate carbon dioxide. Republicans say controls on climate-related emissions should be left to Congress. An energy and climate-change bill that included regulation of CO2 passed the House during the last Congress but died in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Obama EPA has moved to regulate greenhouse gases on the basis of a 2007 Supreme Court decision that these emissions are pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

A subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee held a Feb. 9 hearing to discuss draft legislation from Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to rewrite parts of the Clean Air Act. Upton, who chairs the full committee, wants to forbid EPA from regulating CO2 and several other greenhouse gases: water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. Upton has not yet formally introduced his bill.

Upton’s bill would also target the precedent-setting EPA move in 2009 to allow California to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks for model years 2012 to 2016. The legislation would bar EPA from granting such permission to California again.

Testifying at the hearing, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson defended the agency’s December 2009 scientific determination under the Clean Air Act that emissions of greenhouse gases endanger public health. Jackson said passage of Upton’s legislation would represent “politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question.”

Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) responded that Republicans’ ire at the agency was “not about science but about the destructive economic influence of EPA.”

Republican members of the panel grilled Jackson about the economic impacts of EPA’s planned rules for greenhouse gases, often interrupting her replies by speaking over her. The EPA chief said that each proposal will be subject to detailed economic analysis.

Upton’s measure “will properly reassert Congress’ authority” over climate-change issues, Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) said. Many Democrats on the committee insisted that Upton’s legislation would slash EPA’s ability to protect public health.

Upton’s draft bill is tentatively called the Energy Tax Prevention Act. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) called the title “total nonsense” because EPA has no authority to levy taxes.

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) also testified before the subcommittee. A powerful member of the GOP, Inhofe said he would introduce a bill identical to Upton’s in the Senate.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said he expects the Energy & Commerce Committee to approve Upton’s bill within a month or two and then send it to the full House for a vote.

Other EPA efforts are also garnering scrutiny from House GOP members. On Feb. 9, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, led by Darrell E. Issa (R-Calif.), released a report looking more broadly at the effect of federal regulations on employment.

On the basis of voluntary responses from businesses to a committee solicitation, the report says three EPA actions could impede job creation: a pending rule to curb toxic emissions from industrial boilers, a proposed tightening of the ozone air quality standard, and controls on greenhouse gases.


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