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EPA Chief Takes the Hot Seat As Fight to Block Climate Rules Intensifies

Legislators intent on blocking the EPA from controlling CO2 emissions are fishing around for a coalition-building bill that can gain traction

Feb 9, 2011

WASHINGTON—Thus far, Republicans and coal state Democrats intent on barring the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon pollution have served up at least half a dozen flavors of legislation.

And the conservation community eagle-eyeing this 112th Congress has declared all six of them equally odious.

One of the measures — a draft bill introduced Feb. 2 by Republicans Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan in the House and Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma in the Senate — is undergoing its initial public airing this morning before a House subpanel.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is the first of the 15 witnesses scheduled to testify at the hearing chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power. What’s called the "Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011" will be in the spotlight.

Upton, the newly named chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, have designs on permanently halting Jackson's agency from reining in heat-trapping gases from large stationary sources such as power plants and industrial facilities.

Right now, legislators intent on blocking the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to control carbon dioxide emissions are fishing around for a coalition-building bill that can gain traction.

Two other possibilities floating around now are separate proposals from Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo. Both senators introduced their bills Jan. 31.

Rockefeller is again backing a less-harsh effort to halt EPA action for two years, while Barrasso is bullish on what's considered the most draconian measure. His "Defending America’s Affordable Energy and Jobs Act" would block the EPA and any other part of the federal government from using any existing environmental statute — such as the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act — to control carbon.   

"All these bills are based on a pair of big lies," said David Doniger, policy director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"The first is that EPA is engaged in an unconstitutional power grab trying to regulate that which it has been unable to legislate. No, EPA is doing its job under the Clean Air Act, a law enacted by Congress, which — as the Supreme Court has found — directs EPA to act when science demonstrates that pollutants endanger our health and welfare.

"The second big lie is that EPA's modest plan for curbing dangerous carbon pollution will kill millions of jobs and poses a significant threat to job creation and economic recovery," he continued. "EPA is legally prohibited from making businesses take steps that are too costly or would hurt the economy. Clean Air Act safeguards have to be both achievable and affordable.".

What's Up with Upton and Barrasso?

Granted, Capitol Hill veterans are aware that some of these bills are theater with the intent of making Rockefeller's two-year delay somewhat enticing.

And nobody appears fazed by Inhofe's hyperbole. The vocal climate denier, after all, has labeled global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

However, observers profess to being somewhat shocked that Upton and Barrasso — generally categorized as moderate Republicans — are playing such leading roles on the EPA-loathing stage.

Close to two years ago, Upton praised wind energy as an economic engine for southwest Michigan.

"Climate change is a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions," he said in an interview in 2009. "Everything must be on the table particularly renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, nuclear power and clean coal technologies."

As a newly appointed senator in 2007, Barrasso said Washington was failing to read the handwriting on the wall by falling pathetically behind on a coherent energy picture.

"The energy debate of our generation is carbon. Period. You can agree or disagree with global warming theories, but no one can wish the issue away," he told attendees at a Wyoming energy and climate summit. "And the public policy debate about carbon has dramatic effects on Wyoming’s future—our state, our communities, our jobs, our families. Period."

However, moderate Republicans have become an endangered species inside the Beltway, especially after a brutal midterm election heavily influenced by a tea party movement that rewarded ideological purity. Barrasso and Upton are also fully aware that anti-regulatory fervor is reaching a fever pitch in the GOP.

As well, Upton knew he would have to tack to the right to tamp down criticism from the likes of ultra-conservative Rep. Joe Barton. The outspoken Texan, the former ranking member of the energy committee, was "term-limited" out from taking the leadership role when the GOP gained a House majority.

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