WASHINGTON—Gargantuan hammers seemed to be the tool of choice for House Republicans at a congressional hearing about the reach of the Clean Air Act. So it's little wonder that the Environmental Protection Agency looked like an enormous nail.
Ostensibly, members of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power gathered Wednesday to discuss the merits of a draft bill designed to stifle the EPA's efforts to curtail heat-trapping gases.
However, it didn't take long until the back-and-forth exchanges in the first Republican-led, EPA-related hearing of the 112th Congress began resembling an act from the theater of the absurd.
For instance, GOP representatives peppered their first witness, Sen. Jim Inhofe, with questions about the science of global warming. Not only is the Oklahoma Republican the Senate's most outspoken climate change denier, but he also trained as an economist and is on the verge of releasing a book titled "The Hoax."
Ironically, they saved their queries about economics for the second witness — EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the only scientist among the 15 witnesses in the lineup during the tense, hours-long event.
Jackson bore the brunt of the Republicans' venting as they questioned the validity of the 5-4 decision in the Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court case. They doubted that the ruling gave the agency authority to regulate carbon emissions, and blamed the ensuing endangerment finding for ruining the economy, killing jobs, raising food prices and lowering the nation's standard of living.
Brief History of Bill in Question
Inhofe helped to ignite the need for a hearing by pairing up with Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan on the draft measure called the "Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011." Upton is the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Inhofe is ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Upton maintains his bill does not gut the Clean Air Act, just restores it to its intended purpose of regulating criterion pollutants, such as ozone, particulate matter and lead.
"Cap and trade failed in the last Congress, but now we face the threat of Environmental Protection Agency bureaucrats imposing the same agenda through a series of regulations," Upton said.
"Like cap and trade, these regulations would boost the cost of energy, not just for homeowners and car owners, but for businesses both large and small. EPA may be starting by regulating only the largest power plants and factories, but we will all feel the impact of higher prices and fewer jobs."
Democrats beg to differ with that assessment. A Feb. 7 analysis circulated by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, ranking member of the full committee, lays out 10 specific ways the bill would handcuff EPA. For example, it would overturn not only the Massachusetts v. EPA decision but also EPA's 2009 scientific determination that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health and the environment.
In addition to threatening the renewable fuel standard, Waxman said, it would repeal California’s authority to regulate vehicle emissions, hamper EPA's efforts to offer amendments to the Montreal Protocol, and prohibit EPA from limiting carbon emissions from stationary sources, cars and trucks.
Inhofe Chides Alarmists
In his testimony, Inhofe chided climate change "alarmists." Scaring the public with predictions about more intense droughts, floods, storms and diseases is useless, he said, when his math reveals that EPA regulations will make very little difference unless other large emitters act aggressively.
He also estimated that other carbon bills Congress has considered would cost $300 to $400 billion annually and export jobs overseas.
"The science on this issue is mixed," Inhofe said. "The economics are not mixed."
Though Inhofe offered to give Waxman an autographed copy of his upcoming book about the myths of global warming, the Californian wasn't falling for the niceties.
"What this bill should be called is the 'Big Polluter Protection Act,'" said Waxman, the co-author of a cap-and-trade bill that squeaked by in the House in 2009 before failing in the Senate. "[This bill] will repeal the only authority the administration has to protect our health and the environment without providing any alternative.
"History will not judge this committee kindly if we become the last bastion of the polluter and the science-denier," he continued. "When carbon emissions rise to record levels and our weather system goes haywire, the American people will ask why we acted so irresponsibly."
Jackson Stands Up for Science
Before a parade of 14 Republicans proceeded to question EPA's authority, Jackson emphasized that her agency did not act alone in its 2009 finding that man-made greenhouse gases threaten the public's health and welfare. The decision was based on peer-reviewed science and conclusions reached by the National Academy of Sciences.