What Can Billions Buy You?
An election? We know that. How about the freedom to pollute as we please....
EPA wears the bull's-eye
By: Jonathan Allen and Erica Martinson
June 20, 2012 09:21 AM EDT
This election year the EPA is toxic.
The Senate is voting on whether EPA planes can take pictures of farms ó after it was mistakenly reported that drones were flying over the heartland. House Republicans want to cut the agency's funding to pre-1998 levels. And the president has threatened to veto a House bill, due up Wednesday, that would restrict Clean Air Act rules.
Oh, and there were at least 10 ó count 'em 10 ó Capitol Hill hearings and markups on environmental matters Tuesday.
Forget drones, EPA could use a missile shield.
This week is just the latest round of a Republican attack that has forced the White House to hold back on new environmental regulations, lawmakers say ó at least for now.
"They have slowed down some of that stuff, but it's only until after the election," Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said. "After that, it's going to be scary."
Even some Democrats say the White House has responded to political reality in slowing down environmental regulations.
"The unrelenting attacks by the Republicans on environmental protection, I think, have caused people in the administration to be careful to pick their fights," said California Rep. Henry Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
To Republicans, the agency is the very embodiment of what they see as the worst of President Barack Obama and, as they see it, his liberal policies: big government reaching into the minutia of businesses.
And the drone rumor follows a list of other strange accusations plaguing the agency this year, like talk that it would start regulating farm dust (which it had no plans to do) and spilled milk (a trumped up version of reality).
"They are just an intimidating, overreaching, regulatory body," Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said of EPA. Rahall's state recently held a symposium on EPA's "War on Coal," a response to regulations now in effect and in the pipeline that could damage the coal industry.
Mitt Romney has hammered Obama over EPA policies during campaign stops in coal country. For his part, Obama has warned that a Romney administration would roll back existing regulations to the detriment of public health, and his campaign has pointed to instances of Romney reversing past support for environmental regulations.
"Itís not that people donít care in Missouri about the environment and itís not that they donít want some basic rules to make sure we have clean air and water," Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told POLITICO. "Itís they donít want the overreach. And I think thatís been a political talking point on the other side that has taken root particularly in the rural part of the state.Ē
There are currently 25 EPA-generated rules held up in the review stage of the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, more than any other Cabinet department or agency, according to the Office of Management and Budget. HHS, charged with implementing the president's health care law, has just 17 in that pipeline.
The full list of EPA rules in various stages of regulatory purgatory is much longer. They include mandates on coal ash, gasoline sulfur standards, Clean Water Act jurisdiction and industrial boilers. Gina McCarthy, the EPA's air chief, said Tuesday she doesn't know when the new boiler rule will be finalized.
"Still working on it," she told POLITICO. "Still working on it."
Last week, EPA sent a letter saying it isnít prepared to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from planes, and that it wonít do so for engines on ships and other off-road vehicles and machines.
Some environmental groups say the agency should fight harder.
"The best defense against political attacks on the Clean Air Act is ambitious implementation of all its successful clean air programs, because they save lives and protect the climate. But when the EPA drags its heels on clean air implementation, big polluters and their lobbyists just sense weakness and redouble their attacks," said Kassie Siegel, the director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity.
But the stalled regulations don't tell the whole story. The Obama administration has finalized several significant environmental regulations ó most under court orders ó that have provided fodder for congressional cannons. They include greenhouse gas limits for new power plants, the mercury and air toxics rule at existing power plants, requirements to cut methane emissions at hydraulically fractured natural gas drilling sites, and a heavy hand overseeing mountaintop mining.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is one of the few Republicans to embrace environmental regulations. He is a fan of a rule requiring costly power plant upgrades that would stop mecury and other toxins from getting into the air, and one that tries to protect downwind states from other states' pollution.
"That's what should have been done years ago. These pollutants were identified in the law in 1990, and 20 years later we're just getting around to doing what the courts have ordered EPA to do,Ē Alexander said. :yes:
But for most Republicans and some Democrats the politics are clear: It's best to kick the EPA when it's down. Some are trying to block regulations that the administration is no longer pursuing.
McCaskill and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) offered an amendment to the farm bill that would have stopped the EPA from implementing a farm dust rule that had been abandoned. (That amendment didn't make it onto the final list of 73 amendments being debated on the floor this week.) And McCaskill is proud of her efforts to block a child labor regulation from the Labor Department.
"I want to make sure no one forgets I had a part in killing both of them," she said.
For many environmental protection advocates, the battle is a partisan one. The Republicans who defended the EPA in the 1980s and 1990s are now gone. Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) published a report on Monday listing 247 votes the Republican-led House has taken since January of 2011 that they say would hurt environmental or public health policy.
And some on the left note that the House Republicans haven't really won many battles.
"The toxic cloud of anti-EPA rhetoric from congressional Republicans has had limited effect because the Senate and the president have kept most of their nasty little bills to gut our health and environmental protections from becoming law," David D. Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council said. "All this anti-EPA venom appeals to their base, but it is out of step with the majority of the American people, who consistently say they want EPA to do its job and they want Congress to keep its hands off the laws that protect our health and our environment."
But Republicans made clear late Tuesday that they have no intention of giving even an inch to the EPA. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and several members of his committee sent a letter to EPA and the White House suggesting that the federal government is overreaching in its research and regulation of hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking."
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who is forcing a Wednesday vote on repealing the EPA's rule limiting mercury and other air pollutants from power plants, sent a letter to the agency's inspector general asking for an investigation into a controversial natural-gas enforcement case in Texas.
And the White House is fighting back against congressional Republicans. OMB issued a veto threat Tuesday against a House energy bill that it says would block implementation of rules associated with the Clean Air Act.