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Bad Week for the EPA: Its Ability to Regulate Greenhouse Gas Is Under Threat

The Supreme Court and science say that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gases, but Republicans are putting the agency through the ringer.

Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the EPA, got a pair of boxing gloves for her birthday Tuesday. As Lisbeth Kaufman from the Center for American Progress Action Fund tells the story, she was presented the mitts at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference by the president of United Steel Workers Union, as he warned her that she'll need to put up a tough fight to defend the EPA's authority against attacks from big polluters and their friends in Washington.

The timing of the gift was perfect. This week is proving to be one of the most event, outrageous, and head-slapping in the agency's history. The past three days have been a whirlwind. Let's recap.

Monday: The chair of the House oversight committee, Darrell Issa (R-CA), released a beefy packet of 100 letters from industry leaders, trade groups, and business associations that broke down what regulations they'd like to see relaxed. (Earlier this year, Issa had asked business leaders which rules they like to see axed.) In Kate Sheppard's words, "The letters make clear that the Environmental Protection Agency is corporate America's top target."

We get it: businesses that profit off polluting don't like pollution controls.

The letters attack existing regulations, and the prospects of the EPA setting limits to greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. (I'll spare you a lengthy explanation of why the EPA is actually legally obligated to take steps to limit greenhouse gas pollution, for now.) Meanwhile, Fred Upton (R-MI), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and his henchman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), who chairs the Energy and Power Subcommittee (bear with me; this is wonky, but it's important wonk), released a draft bill that would essentially strip out the Clean Air Act provisions that allow the EPA to regulate carbon pollution. They set a hearing on that draft legislation, the ridiculously titled "Energy Tax Prevention Act," for Wednesday. But before we get to that...

Tuesday: Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) released a private letter that former EPA head Stephen Johnson sent then President Bush in early 2008, which basically said that the science was clear and that the EPA had the responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases. Johnson, a Bush appointee, wrote to the president:

the latest science of climate change requires the Agency to propose a positive endangerment finding, as was agreed to at the Cabinet-level meeting in November...[T]he latest climate change science does not permit a negative finding, nor does it permit a credible finding that we need to wait for more research.


Make no mistake: this is a bombshell. Bush's own EPA chief said that the science necessitated action on greenhouse gases. He even laid out the very plan that Lisa Jackson's EPA is now running with.

Unfortunately, as Politico reported, Johnson's pleas were for naught. "Bush overruled him after hearing counter-arguments from the office of Vice President Dick Cheney, the Office of Management and Budget, the Transportation Department and Exxon Mobil Corp.

So on the eve of these "Energy Tax Prevention Act" hearings, Waxman wrote to Upton:

As Administrator Johnson’s letter makes clear, both Republican and Democratic Administrations have had the same view of the science: carbon emissions are a serious threat to our nation’s welfare. I urge you to leave the science to scientists and drop your effort to use legislation to overturn EPA’s endangerment finding.


Wednesday: As if Johnson's and Waxman's letters were figments of a gas huffing hallucination, Upton and Whitfield's hearing went on unimpeded, and the ranking Republicans marched out a parade of climate deniers and fossil fuel industry shills.

The hearing was a joke. (I'm still aching from banging my head repeatedly on my desk while watching online.) But there's nothing funny at all about the Act itself. It very literally dismisses science in favor of personal opinion.

NRDC's Dave Hawkins said it best:

The novel idea in this bill is that Congress can simply vote out of existence, scientific facts that a majority does not like. That’s what this bill would do. It would “repeal” (yes, the bill really says “repeal”) a scientific determination by the US EPA that carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gas” pollutants are a threat to human health and welfare. Interesting concept: EPA scientists, after studying the work of thousands of other scientists, conclude that global warming pollution threatens our health and welfare. And Congress responds, “no it doesn’t and we have the votes to prove it!


To better understand the truly novel, and utterly illogical, legislation that is "The Energy Tax Prevention Act," read Hawkins' whole post. It's depressingly cynical politics. And stupid governance too.

Thursday: The bell rings, Lisa Jackson spits in the bucket, and comes out punching. (I hope.)

Image: Boxing Gloves, a Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivative-Works (2.0) image from kwdesigns's photostream

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