WASHINGTON—Those perceiving the Clean Air Act as a lumbering locomotive intent on flattening U.S. jobs, economic competitiveness and energy reliability hope the "TRAIN Act" makes more than a whistle-stop tour through Capitol Hill.
Conservationists, however, have an opposite take.
For them, the wheels can't come off soon enough from House legislation that is saddled with a cumbersome name — Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011 — to create a cutesy but memorable acronym that lends itself to ridicule.
Listen to Clean Air Watch's Frank O'Donnell.
"It ought to be called the 'Train Wreck Act' because it's such a thoroughly bad idea," the president of the Washington-based advocacy organization told SolveClimate News in an interview. "This just shows you that the spirit of George Orwell is alive and well in Washington."
But Oklahoma Rep. John Sullivan evidently thinks the name reflects the serious legislating the House must undertake now that the GOP wields power once again.
The Republican says he is sponsoring such a measure because Congress desperately needs "an honest accounting of how much the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory train wreck is costing our economy and American consumers."
Where the TRAIN Act Stands
Sullivan is second in command on the GOP-directed Energy and Power Subcommittee. The TRAIN Act is now under consideration by the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee after advancing out of the subpanel May 24.
The legislation's 28 co-sponsors include Democrats Jim Matheson of Utah, Mike Ross of Arkansas and Gene Green of Texas.
In a nutshell, the 10-page bill (H.R. 1705) creates an interagency federal committee tasked with conducting cost-benefit analyses of 10 specific EPA regulations aimed at curbing pollutants such as heat-trapping gases, fine particulates, ozone, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. These studies are supposed to reveal the effects of clean air rules on consumers, small businesses, state and local governments, labor markets and agriculture.
"Unfortunately, this administration's lack of regard for the economic consequences of its environmental and energy agenda is hindering our ability to get the economy back on track," Sullivan said back when he officially introduced his bill May 4.
"Many of EPA’s regulations under consideration will cost our country billions, impacting everything from energy reliability, jobs, manufacturing and the global economic competitiveness of the United States."
Waxman's Effort to Sideline Bill
Even as the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, California Rep. Henry Waxman knows he has to perform fancy legislative footwork to stymie legislation he dislikes while serving on a GOP-majority panel.
That line of tactical thinking evidently prompted him to urge committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to delay consideration of the bill until the Congressional Budget Office scores the bill.
In a May 31 letter, Waxman and Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, the top Democrat on the Energy and Power Subcommittee, detailed how Republicans violated strict financial policies the GOP laid out in January by not allotting a specific sum of money for the interagency committee to execute its analyses.
The two Democrats pointed out that the TRAIN Act initially included an authorization for appropriations of $2 million for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, which they thought was low considering the amount of research the federal panel was being asked to accomplish.
"During the Subcommittee markup, an amendment offered by Rep. Sullivan to strike this authorization was adopted," Waxman and Rush wrote. "Rep. Sullivan stated that once the specific authorization amount was removed, the agencies would simply use 'existing resources under the current operating budgets' to implement the legislation."
But instead of forcing the executive branch to use existing resources, they continued, it actually would require the Congressional Budget Office to provide an estimated authorization, at the very least.
"We do not believe the subterfuge used to report the TRAIN Act by the Subcommittee is appropriate," Waxman and Rush concluded, adding that Republicans should postpone action until the Congressional Budget Office provides an accurate cost assessment and bill supporters can clarify how the committee "will process legislation that will cost millions of taxpayer dollars to implement but has no specific authorization and no provisions to pay for the costs."
Upton is a Sullivan Ally
When House Republicans charged back onto Capitol Hill after trouncing the Democrats during the November midterm election, they made no secret of their aversion to environmental regulations. No doubt, the TRAIN Act is one in a long line of anti-EPA measures.
EPA's insistence on pushing for what Sullivan labeled an expensive, one-size-fits-all federal mandate on haze is part of what prompted the Oklahoman to introduce his bill. He maintains that a regional plan for limiting smog in his home state would be cheaper and less burdensome on electricity generators and utility customers.
Upton, speaking in support of Sullivan's bill, said the intent is neither to shut down EPA nor nullify regulations.
"We are simply asking for a more holistic study of the economic impacts of EPA regulations," Upton said in remarks at the May 24 hearing about the measure he is co-sponsoring. "Without thoughtful consideration and deliberate application, certain regulations have the ability to shut down businesses, destroy jobs and increase the price and availability of energy."
'Lobbyist Mischief' Requires Eternal Vigilance
In a different era in the nation's capital, O'Donnell said, legislation such as the TRAIN Act would probably be ignored because it's so extreme.
"But we have to take it seriously because if we don't stand up and say this is a threat, it might slip through," he emphasized. "It's lobbyist mischief. Their intention is to throw a scare into the White House and slow the pace of regulation through intimidation. It's an attempt to tie up EPA standards in a straitjacket."
He noted that industry and other opponents have already bullied the White House and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson into backpedaling on a rule designed to halve emissions of mercury and other harmful pollutants from an estimated 200,000 industrial boilers, heaters and solid waste incinerators.
Just last month, the agency announced that it was delaying indefinitely recently completed restrictions on fossil fuel-burning boilers that power and heat factories, schools, hospitals and universities.
EPA is required to limit toxic emissions from boilers under the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act, and it was under court order to issue the most recent rules.
While proponents of the TRAIN Act point out how EPA's efforts to rein in pollutants will saddle homeowners with higher utility bills, organizations such as the American Lung Association find comfort in a report from the federal government.
Jackson's agency recently estimated that cutting pollution via the Clean Air Act will save $2 trillion between 1990 and 2020 and prevent at least 230,000 deaths annually.
TRAIN Act Repetitive
In a May letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee leadership, American Lung Association president and chief executive officer David Connor emphasized that the TRAIN Act is a redundant measure that delays long-overdue protections.
One, he said, the Clean Air Act already requires that all interested parties have ample time to provide comments about any proposed rule. And two, the White House Office of Management and Budget executes in-depth reviews of all significant rulemakings after EPA conducts its own internal examinations.
In "Tallying up the Impact of New EPA Rules," author Isaac Shapiro presents evidence that nine major rules made final by the Obama administration's EPA would amount to less than 0.1 percent of the economy when fully in effect by 2014.
However, O'Donnell and others doubt such arithmetic will halt House Republicans from blaming a teetering but complex economy on environmental regulations.
"It's an attempt to throw sands into EPA's regulatory gears," O'Donnell said about the TRAIN Act. "With any luck, even if it passes through Energy and Commerce and the full House, it will die in the Senate."