Analysis: Republicans turn sights on "activist" EPA

WASHINGTON Tue Aug 16, 2011 2:19pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Emboldened by their success wresting concessions from the Obama administration in debt-limit talks, House Republicans now plan an assault of similar vigor on the Environmental Protection Agency.

Republicans, backed by wealthy conservative lobbyists, are determined to stop the EPA and what they see as an activist agenda that is costing jobs and hurting corporate profits.

"Right now for House Republicans one of their important rally cries is that EPA regulations are excessive and even abusive," said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

After President Barack Obama's push for a climate bill in Congress collapsed last year, the EPA was left as the last bastion of hope for his environmental policy.

This led the agency, ironically founded under the Republican administration of Richard Nixon in 1970, to pursue its environmental agenda vigorously. The EPA was considered a toothless tiger under the administration of George W. Bush.

Almost on par with government spending, Republicans galvanized around the issue, using every opportunity, such as congressional hearings, relentlessly to criticize EPA chief Lisa Jackson and stymie her agency's efforts.

While Republicans face stiff opposition in any legislation to shackle the EPA from the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House, they do have a number of options, especially in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

And the party has proven adept at outflanking the often disunited Democrats on big issues.

House Republicans could move to cut EPA funding through the appropriations process or through deficit-cutting talks in November as required by the debt-ceiling agreement.

Representative Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was picked by Republicans to be part of the 12-member congressional committee that will decide on cuts needed as part of the debt-ceiling agreement.

He could push hard for savings from the EPA's budget as he has led the battle against its rules.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid recently said he sees no threat to the EPA from Upton's presence on the super-committee.

"I would assume they will make a serious effort to cut back and apply pressure to cut back EPA regulatory activity as part of this budgetary process," Stavins said.

"I don't know if they'll succeed. That will depend on what the Democratic response to that is."

Representative Ed Whitfield, another leading Republican on energy policy issues, said that outside the debt talks his party will hammer away in hearings and through legislation on its themes that the EPA has been killing jobs and growth.

Whitfield said Democrats, especially those from energy-intensive states such as West Virginia and Ohio, should know it will be a major issue on the campaign trail.

"We want to keep passing things on the House side that would reverse things EPA is doing simply because we'd like to see those 23 Democratic senators up for reelection next year vote on some of this," Whitfield said.

EPA ACTIONS INFLAME REPUBLICANS

Of the most contentious proposals, the EPA wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the country's major utilities. But the process has been delayed, in part, some suspect, by Republican pressure.

These rules could hit the bottom lines of such companies as American Electric Power and Duke Energy. Similar regulations are also planned for oil refineries.

In addition, the EPA has been struggling to complete a much-delayed rule on ozone pollution while also pushing new fuel-efficiency standards and measures to cut emissions from oil and gas drilling.

In protest, states and industry groups have slapped the EPA with multiple lawsuits, which could delay implementation of its rules and slow investment in energy-dependent industries.

CHOKING THE FUNDING

Republicans have tried a number of legislative moves to hamper the EPA. In April, the House passed a bill designed as a blanket ban on the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and sent it to the Senate, which voted 50-50 on it, falling short of the super-majority needed.

The House Interior-EPA spending bill introduced last month to cut funding to EPA programs is also pending.

Whitfield, the House Republican, said his party could use a continuing resolution or omnibus bill to staunch the flow of funds from Congress.

A continuing resolution could paralyze the EPA by cutting its current and future spending. Slipping EPA program cuts into a larger budgetary package essential to running the government could be a strategy to force Republican demands into law.

Anti-EPA lobbyists have also been at work. Steve Miller, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said his group is pushing hard to persuade Democrats in both chambers to fall in line with Republicans.

Miller said EPA rules regulating air pollution from utilities "would be the most expensive regulation to ever affect our coal-based electricity industry".

Environmentalists are hopeful that Democrats in the Senate and the threat of a veto from the White House will be able to stop the assault on the country's environmental laws.

"I think it's important to know that for all of the saber rattling, nothing of substance has passed Congress," Jigar Shah, CEO of the environmental nonprofit Carbon War Room, said.

(Editing by Russell Blinch and Dale Hudson)

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Comments (4)
fromthecenter wrote:
yes, the evil EPA keeping corporations from dumping pollutants in our water and air. JOB KILLERS or is it people killers.

Aug 16, 2011 2:44pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
USAPragmatist wrote:
Without the EPA we would still have rivers catching on fire, just ask Cleveland. We would have MUCH higher levels of pollution. We would still have acid-rain falling on the Northeast from lack of sulfur scrubbers in Midwest coal plants. We would have even HIGHER health care costs due to increased pollution. We would have less mountains in Appalachia due to mountain top removals. We would have less access to clean drinking water. But we also would have higher corporate profits, after all they are not making record profits in the last few years anyhow.

If anything the EPA needs more funding to not allow these corporations to destroy our SHARED environment in the name of corporate profits. As of 2011 the EPA’s budget is ~10 billion. about 1/100 the we spend on Defense, and isn’t preserving our environment on a par with preserving our safety? I say double their funding and fund it either by taking it directly from defense or a tax on polluting emissions. After all the GOP/tea-party says we have to pay for it, so let us pay for it by directly taxing what the EPA is suppose to regulate, so if there is more pollution the EPA will have more money.

with a degree in Astronomy I have studied the atmosphere of our planet and how it compares to other planets. From these studies one has a different perspective about how fragile our environment can be and the need to preserve its natural state as much as possible.

Aug 16, 2011 2:49pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
nkirv wrote:
Here’s the Republican way to create jobs: Allow lots of pollution so that companies can employ people at higher wages, who will then get sick from the pollution, so that they can use their higher wages to buy expensive personal health insurance (since there’s no cheap group or national insurance) and go to see lots of doctors, who can bill the insurance companies. This will also create more Republicans in schools, because all the kids who are developmentally impaired from the pollution will be dumber, so they are more likely to become Republicans, who will continue to promote pollution and jobs created from pollution. Of course, eventually everyone will become so dumb and ill, no one will become doctors any more, and our country will be so backward, then China will conquer us.

Aug 16, 2011 3:27pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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