Could Oregon Democrat’s Amendment Trip Up Anti-EPA Legislation?

With his new amendment, Rep. Blumenauer aims to get Republicans to own up to an agenda of falsely casting EPA CO2 rules as an 'energy tax on America'

Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon
Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon/Credit: America 2050

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WASHINGTON—As the House preps for a vote as soon as today on what’s touted as the “Energy Tax Prevention Act,” an Oregon Democrat is intent on tripping up the GOP on what he labels a clear case of doublespeak.

Just how is Rep. Earl Blumenauer tweaking the Republicans?

Simply by asking them to strike the entire 11-page bill designed to halt the EPA in its regulatory tracks and replace it with an amendment to the Clean Air Act that would prevent Lisa Jackson or any agency administrator from imposing an energy tax.

“This amendment will help us find out whether Republicans are truly concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency imposing an energy tax on America,” Blumenauer said about the suggestion he rolled out Tuesday. “I, too, am opposed to any attempts by the EPA to impose taxes, which is why I hope my Republican colleagues will join me in supporting this common-sense amendment.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton advanced the Energy Tax Prevention Act to the full House after approving it on a 34-19 vote March 15. Upton garnered support from Democrats such as Reps. Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

The bill, decried by environmental advocates, unions and public health organizations, would permanently stop EPA from reining in emissions of heat-trapping gases from large stationary sources such as power plants and industrial facilities.

With Republicans in control of the House, Blumenauer’s press secretary, Derek Schlickeisen, told SolveClimate News in a Tuesday evening interview that the amendment has little chance of advancing.

“Still, it is useful, we think, to offer a counter-narrative to some of this ridiculous language,” Schlickeisen explained, adding that the American public shouldn’t be fooled by the word “tax” in the bill’s title. “We think it’s very reasonable to put out what the facts of the case are.”

Blumenauer Signs Waxman Letter, Too

In addition to promoting a pro-EPA statement with his amendment, Blumenauer is also among the 155 U.S. representatives to sign a Monday letter supporting the agency’s efforts that was circulated by California Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We write to urge you to support the Clean Air Act, which is one of America’s great bipartisan pieces of legislation,” the legislators wrote in a five-paragraph letter addressed to Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “We ask you to oppose efforts to undermine this landmark law. In particular, EPA has responsibility, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, to take steps to curb carbon emissions using its current Clean Air Act authority.”

“Indeed, EPA has already wisely used this authority to implement one national automobile standard to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce carbon emissions,” the letter continues.

The letter credits the 1970 Clean Air Act with allowing the nation to unprecedented environmental and public health strides during a 40-plus year period when the economy has grown by more than 200 percent.

“Cleaner air, a healthier population, and a stronger economy go hand-in-hand,” the letter concludes. “In addition to keeping workers on the job, cleaning up air pollution can create new jobs — in designing and manufacturing pollution controls, installing and operating new equipment, and building cleaner facilities.”

Dingell, UAW Also on Board

One of the most notable names on the Waxman letter is that of Rep. John Dingell, the second House member to sign. The Michigan Democrat once referred to the prospect of regulating greenhouse gas emissions via the Clean Air Act as causing a “glorious mess.” Dingell, the former chair of the energy committee, has served in Congress more than twice as long as Upton, his colleague from the Great Lake State.

Though he was one of the original authors of the Clean Air Act, Dingell was never a fan of tailpipe emissions rules. As committee chairman, he was vehemently opposed to upping fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, fearing it would drive his home state’s chief industry into ruin.

This time around, however, Dingell and the United Auto Workers are on the same page. Barbara Somson, the UAW’s legislative director, also wrote an April 4 letter to Congress expressing her union’s lack of support for Upton’s measure.

In her letter, Somson points out that UAW members fear such legislation could cause confusion and litigation over the question of whether the tailpipe emissions standard that EPA and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration set for model years 2012-2016 would remain enforceable. She added that it could jeopardize EPA-NHTSA collaboration on a light-duty vehicle standard for model years 2017-2025.

“When announced, this national program was applauded by all participants,” she wrote about cooperation on fuel efficiency from the union, the automotive industry and the conservation community. “We view this federal regulation as a ‘win-win,’ providing certainty to the auto industry, while leading to significant oil savings and a cleaner, healthier environment.”

In addition, she wrote, combining this regulation with federal policies to back domestic manufacturing of advanced technology vehicles and their key components is leading to the creation of tens of thousands of auto sector jobs.

Where Upton’s Bill Stands

While Upton’s anti-EPA legislation will likely sail through the Republican-majority House this week, it faces stiff opposition in the more-staid Senate where 53 members caucus with the Democrats. And the White House has confirmed that President Obama’s veto pen is at the ready.

Still, Sen. Jim Inhofe, who has introduced a companion bill in the upper chamber, is asking his colleagues to follow the House’s lead by listening to a coalition of organizations such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Mining Association, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“Senators will soon face a fundamental choice,” the Oklahoma Republican said in a statement. “Stand with farmers and manufacturers, and the jobs they want to create, or stand with EPA’s cap-and-trade regulations, which threaten their futures and the economy’s growth and expansion.”

‘Wildly Inaccurate Language’

A law with a history as exemplary as the Clean Air Act, Blumenauer said, deserves to be lauded instead of attacked on a partisan basis.

The nine-term Oregonian, who serves on both the House Budget and Ways and Means committees, accused the GOP of taking “the Frank Luntz approach to environmental policymaking.”

That’s a reference to the masterful message-twisting of the pollster and political consultant known for prodding the George W. Bush administration into fixating on a supposed lack of scientific certainty instead of encouraging the advance of climate change legislation.

Luntz, a regular on Fox News, is famous for pushing parts of the English language through a rabbit hole, where the estate tax becomes the death tax, school vouchers morph into opportunity scholarships and offshore oil drilling is transformed into deep-sea energy exploration.

“My suspicion, however, is that Republicans do not believe the EPA is going to impose an energy tax,” Blumenauer said. “They have perfected the use of poll-tested but wildly inaccurate language to attack sound science and undermine confidence in the laws that keep us safe.”