Discussion of draft GHG bill turns into CAA debate

Democrats and Republicans quickly established their differing views as a US House subcommittee debated legislation designed to draft legislation to halt the US Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 10 -- Democrats and Republicans quickly established their differing views as a US House subcommittee debated legislation designed to draft legislation to halt the US Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Democrats contended that the bill sponsored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) would gut the CAA. Republicans said that it simply would establish that the law was not intended to regulate GHGs.

Debate quickly expanded to environmental regulation’s impact on US jobs, however. When Republicans on the committee’s Energy and Power Subcommittee argued that trying to limit carbon emissions would cost US businesses $300-400 billion/year and discourage hiring of new employees, Democrats responded that regulation under the CAA has created thousands of jobs and produced millions of dollars in new income for US businesses by making them more efficient and globally competitive.

“Cap-and-trade legislation failed in the last Congress, but now we face the threat of EPA bureaucrats imposing the same agenda through a series of regulations,” Upton said in his opening statement at the subcommittee’s Feb. 9 hearing. “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.”

Upton said his draft bill, formally known as the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, would restore the CAA to its intended purpose. EPA began to formulate regulations to limit GHG emissions under the law after it concluded that they threaten public health. It examined that question in response to a 2007 US Supreme Court decision saying that it had the authority to issue such regulations under the CAA.

Republicans have charged that EPA has gone beyond its actual authority and that it’s Congress which should decide whether to impose limits on GHG emissions. Upton’s draft bill is similar to one developed by James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s ranking minority member.

Democrats’ concerns
Democrats maintain that the proposals not only would overturn the Supreme Court’s decision, but also throw out EPA’s determination that GHGs endanger human health and the environment, keep EPA from requiring stationary sources to reduce GHG emissions, and prohibit it from requiring additional reductions of GHG emissions from motor vehicles while repealing California’s authority to regulate such emissions.

The latest GOP proposals also threaten implementation of the renewable fuel standard, prohibit EPA from enforcing existing GHG reporting requirements, prevent EPA it from considering impacts on climate change when approving alternatives to ozone depleting substances under Title VI of the CAA and the Montreal Protocol, create legal uncertainty about the status of the recent motor vehicle standards adopted by EPA, call into question EPA’s authority to implement voluntary programs to reduce GHGs, and create new litigation opportunities for opponents of regulation of conventional pollutants, according to Democrats.

In her opening statement as she testified, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said Upton’s draft 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.”

She said in 2010 alone, EPA’s implementation of the CAA saved more than 160,000 US lives, avoided more than 100,000 hospital visits; prevented millions of cases of respiratory illness, including bronchitis and asthma; enhanced US productivity by preventing millions of lost workdays; and kept US children healthy and in school.

EPA’s CAA implementation also has contributed to dynamic growth in the US environmental technologies industry and its workforce, Jackson continued. “In 2008, that industry generated nearly $300 billion in revenue and $44 billion in exports. Yesterday, the University of Massachusetts and Ceres released an analysis finding that two of the updated CAA 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 5 years,” she noted.

Scientific research
Subcommittee Democrats joined her in saying that scientific research has shown that global climate change is real, that human activity is accelerating it, and that it poses a public threat. “The premise of the Inhofe-Upton legislation is that climate change isn’t real. There are a lot of scientists who would disagree with that,” said Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the full committee’s ranking minority member. “I find it troubling that we’re discussing this without calling any scientists to testify.” Subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) responded that US Energy Sec. Steven Chu was invited to appear, but had to decline because of a scheduling conflict.

Inhofe, who was the hearing’s first witness, told the subcommittee that global climate change science is not conclusive but that the adverse impacts of hurriedly adopting economically onerous programs to combat it are. “We in the United States have the largest recoverable reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas of any nation in the world,” he declared. “We have to run this machine called America, and we can’t do it now without fossil fuels.”

Other Republicans charged that EPA was formulating regulations without considering their economic consequences. Jackson responded that it’s not practical to consider this before regulations are proposed because information is not sufficiently specific to expect reasonable answers. “We will do economic analysis of regulations as they are proposed and finalized under the rulemaking process,” she told the subcommittee.

Jackson also said EPA is adopting a tailoring rule that imposes the new regulations on the heaviest GHG emitters first so that smaller businesses and other activities will have more time to prepare. “The tailoring rule was intended to give certainty that facilities emitting more than 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year,” she said. “It was an intended to be a reasonable first step and start with the large sources, not the small ones. By making our businesses more efficient, we make ourselves more competitive.” The agency has scheduled a series of hearings with businesses which would be regulated initially (including oil refineries on Mar. 4) to discuss impacts.

There were no signs that either side was ready to change its viewpoint, however. “The bottom line is that this is scientific research, and it has been proven. We should accept decisions which have been made on that basis,” subcommittee member Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) said. “I don’t think anyone should conclude that carbon emissions aren’t having an impact on our air. They are. To believe otherwise is to simply put our heads in the sand.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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