U.S. House Battles Over U.S. EPA Greenhouse Gas Regulations

WASHINGTON, DC, February 9, 2011 (ENS) – The Republicans and Democrats massed their forces today in the House of Representatives in a fight over the ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases.

A different House from the Democratic-led body that passed a carbon dioxide cap-and-trade bill in June 2009, this Republican-led body is considering a bill that would prevent the U.S. EPA from regulating the emission of greenhouse gases from stationary sources such as power plants and refineries.

Congressman Fred Upton at a conference, May 2009 (Photo courtesy House Republican Conference)

The House Energy and Commerce Committee today held its first hearings on the draft discussion bill from the new chairman, Republican Congressman Fred Upton of Michigan.

The bill, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, states its purpose as: “To amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas due to concerns regarding possible climate change, and for other purposes.”

Upton said today that his bill is designed to “to protect jobs and preserve the intent of the Clean Air Act.”

The bill would overturn the EPA’s December 2009 finding that the emission of greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare.

This Detroit Edison power plant in Monroe, Michigan on the western shore of Lake Erie is the the third largest coal-fired plant in the United States. (Photo credit unknown)

Along with a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases are pollutants and the EPA has the duty to regulate them, this endangerment determination is the basis for EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.

Far from being an invention of the Obama administration’s EPA, the Bush-era EPA administrator also supported a positive greenhouse gas endangerment finding.

The committee’s top Democrat, Congressman Henry Waxman of California, Tuesday released a private letter that former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson wrote to President George W. Bush on January 31, 2008.

“It addresses the same issue as your legislation: whether carbon emissions endanger the public,” Waxman wrote Friday in his own letter to Upton, in which he shares the contents of Johnson’s private letter to President Bush.

“Administrator Johnson wrote: ‘the latest science of climate change requires the Agency to propose a positive endangerment finding, as was agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting in November.'”

Former EPA head Stephen Johnson testifies in Congress, May 1, 2007 (Photo courtesy House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming)

“The latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research,” Johnson wrote.

“Administrator Johnson also wrote: ‘A robust interagency policy process involving principal meetings over the past eight months has enabled me to formulate a plan that is prudent and cautious yet forward thinking. … [I]t … creates a framework for responsible, cost-effective and practical actions.'”

“He added that actions to reduce carbon emissions ‘should spur both private sector investment in developing new, cost-effective technologies and private sector deployment of these technologies at a large scale.'”

Administrator Johnson released an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in July 2008, which solicited public comment on an endangerment finding. The final endangerment finding was made by the Obama admininstration’s EPA head Lisa Jackson in December 2009.

Jackson testified today before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Chairman Upton’s draft bill to eliminate portions of the Clean Air Act.

“The bill appears to be part of a broader effort in this Congress to delay, weaken, or eliminate Clean Air Act protections of the American public,” Jackson said. “I respectfully ask the members of this Committee to keep in mind that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act saves millions of American children and adults from the debilitating and expensive illnesses that occur when smokestacks and tailpipes release unrestricted amounts of harmful pollution into the air we breathe.”

Current EPA head Lisa Jackson at a conference, February 2009. (Photo by Keith Mellnick courtesy Blue Green Alliance)

“Last year alone, EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act saved more than 160,000 American lives; avoided more than 100,000 hospital visits; prevented millions of cases of respiratory illness, including bronchitis and asthma; enhanced American productivity by preventing millions of lost workdays; and kept American kids healthy and in school,” Jackson told the committee.

Jackson emphasized that the Clean Air Act itself creates jobs, particularly in the growing U.S. environmental technologies industry. “In 2008, that industry generated nearly 300 billion dollars in revenues and 44 billion dollars in exports,” she said.

“Yesterday,” said Jackson, “the University of Massachusetts and Ceres released an analysis finding that two of the updated Clean Air Act standards EPA is preparing to establish for mercury, soot, smog, and other harmful air pollutants from power plants will create nearly 1.5 million jobs over the next five years.”

Chairman Upton said his bill, “allows states to continue setting climate policy as they please, but prevents those actions from being imposed or enforced nationally.”

The bill leaves in place the tailpipe standards for cars and light trucks from model years 2012 through 2016, and allows National Highway Transportation Safety Administration to continue to regulate fuel economy after 2016.

Mt. Storm in northeastern West Virginia is state’s largest coal-fired power plant. (Photo by Dominion Virginia Power)

Upton emphasized that in his view his bill, “does not weaken the Clean Air Act. It does not limit EPA’s ability to monitor and reduce pollutants that damage public health.”

Congressman Upton and many of his Republican colleagues deny that the global climate has been affected by any of six gases emitted by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial processes.

But Democrats maintain the science defining climate change and the human role in driving it is clear and compelling.

Representative Mike Quigley of Chicago said on the floor of the House today, “I rise today to protect the integrity of all things of science because it is science that these facts and figures that have led hundreds of scientists to confirm that global warming is real.”

“In the coming months,” said Quigley, “the EPA will begin regulating greenhouse gases from certain emitters for the first time. These regulations have become hugely controversial and, sadly, political. These rules combat man-made climate change – man-made climate change that is melting our polar ice caps, that is raising the level of our oceans, and that is modifying our seasonal temperatures; man-made climate change that is altering the duration of our growing season, that is flooding parts of the world and causing multi-year droughts on others; man-made climate change that is allowing particulate matters to infiltrate our children’s lungs, making them suffer from lifelong asthma and making us die earlier.”

Ultimately, Republicans cannot win the fight over the Energy Tax Prevention Act because President Barack Obama, a Democrat who supports limiting greenhouse gas emissions, is likely to veto such a bill if it reaches his desk.

Meanwhile, the EPA is holding a series of cross-country listening sessions to gather public input and, as part of a settlement agreement announced December 23, 2010, will propose greenhouse gas standards based on existing technologies for power plants in July 2011 and for refineries in December 2011. The agency intends to issue final standards for power plants in May 2012 and in November 2012 for refineries.

Click here for a schedule of EPA listening sessions on greenhouse gas standards.

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