Since Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) took over as chairman of the House Science Committee in the beginning of 2013, the GOP majority has been waging a war. Its enemies list is long: The Environmental Protection Agency. The National Science Foundation. Rules that prevent industries from polluting the air and groundwater. Climate scientists studying the effects of a warming planet. The very notion of non-politicized, peer-reviewed scientific inquiry.
For years, the House Science Committee was a quiet congressional backwater. Typically, its most contentious battles were over the future of American space exploration.
Smith has changed that. The traditionally collegial committee has been pursuing a more aggressive and party-driven agenda — one that’s closely aligned with the GOP’s relentless promotion of the fossil-fuel industry. Though critics say Smith’s campaign has been scattershot and at least somewhat dysfunctional, they’re alarmed about what could result from the various bills he’s pushed over the last 18 months.
Stocked with corporate-trained lobbyists in key staff positions, the committee’s majority has repeatedly attacked the EPA from several different vantage points. The committee participated in the congressional GOP’s efforts to block or limit virtually all regulations on coal, oil and natural gas facilities - including a reinvigorated effort to delegitimize and ultimately scrap the most important existing such laws like the Clean Air Act by tarnishing seminal studies conducted by researchers with Harvard University and the American Cancer Society. After encountering resistance to that effort, committee Republicans went much further by pushing a bill that would disallow the EPA from using any confidential data or information - a measure seemingly designed to completely disrupt its ability to protect the public.
News outlets are reporting that Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, will not return for the second term of the Obama administration.
Jackson will probably be remembered as the point person for the first US attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It wasn’t necessarily a position that she—or Obama—chose. But partisan gridlock ensured that there would be no legislation addressing emissions, and Jackson inherited a Supreme Court decision from the Bush administration that indicated the Clean Air Act required some sort of action. Within months of the inauguration, Jackson’s EPA used Bush-era research to issue an endangerment finding on greenhouse gasses. Three years later, that finding led to the first limits imposed on carbon dioxide emissions by large sources, limits that would severely curtail the construction of new coal plants.
By the time they were issued, however, a sharp fall in the price of natural gas was already doing more to limit the use of coal than any EPA regulation could. (Fracking, which led to the plunge in prices, was also the subject of some initial EPA oversight.)
The ethanol mandate continues to do more harm than good — inflicting environmental damage, raising food prices, and distorting energy markets.
Two recent developments warrant a reexamination of the fuel ethanol issue.
First, on August 20, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a call for comments on suspending the renewable fuel standard (RFS), sometimes known as the ethanol mandate:
EPA is seeking comment on letters requesting a waiver of the renewable fuel standard and matters relevant to EPA’s consideration of those requests. Governors of the states of Arkansas and North Carolina submitted separate requests for a waiver. Section 211(o)(7)(A) of the Clean Air Act allows the Administrator of the EPA to waive the national volume requirements of the renewable fuel standard program in whole or in part if implementation of those requirements would severely harm the economy or environment of a state, a region, or the United States, or if the Administrator determines that there is inadequate domestic supply of renewable fuel.
Second, though it has not played a feature role in the 2012 presidential election, both Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have weighed in on ethanol fuel, staking out different positions.
Our conclusions are that the ethanol mandate continues to do more harm than good — inflicting environmental damage, raising food prices, and distorting energy markets.
This year’s unremitting heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and freak storms have thrust climate change back into the spotlight. But even with the issue fresh in people’s minds—not to mention in media coverage and Washington’s echo chamber—climate change hasn’t made it onto the priority list that matters most: the presidential campaign trail.
President Obama and presumptive GOP opponent Mitt Romney seem to have “reached a point of détente on the issue,” said Dirk Forrister, who worked on climate issues in the Clinton administration and now heads the International Emissions Trading Association. “Neither of the presidential candidates seems to want to talk about it, and yet it is an issue that both of them would have to deal with.”
Other issues will force the election’s winner to deal with climate change regardless of what he or his supporters might prefer.
A recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions means those efforts can be nullified by Congress only through changes in the Clean Air Act, which hasn’t been amended since 1990—and only then after years of debate. Romney has pledged to exempt carbon dioxide from the Clean Air Act, and legal scholars on both sides of the fight agree that kind of significant legislative change would be a Herculean task no matter what the results come Election Day.
The pressures facing the next president to work with other nations on climate change will only become greater, both as part of the formal United Nations process and through related issues. To wit: The State and Transportation departments must address a European Union cap-and-trade law aimed at forcing airlines to pay fees for greenhouse gases emitted by all flights to and from Europe.
Yet neither candidate is addressing these unavoidable realities—at least not yet. Obama and Romney both have plenty of reason not to want to remind voters about their track records on global warming.
By far the most common response to providing environmental quality or to conserving natural resources has been command-and-control regulations where the government decides what actions shall be taken by individuals and organizations to meet an environmental objective and enforces them with its police powers. As one would expect, there are numerous problems with this approach; let’s focus on air pollution control and fisheries to illustrate them.
One problem is that regulators do not have the information required to set a cap on the right amount of air pollution or total fishing. They typically rely upon the assessments of agency experts that may or may not coincide with what actual users believe. Indeed, the relationship between users and regulators is often understandably antagonistic with little trust or cooperation. And in other cases, influential parties use regulatory rules to advance their position relative to their competitors. In either case, the “wrong” regulation is likely to be put into place—at least for meeting the objective of improving the environment or protecting a resource in a cost-effective manner.
Another related problem is that because regulators do not have the correct information, they typically mandateuniform technologies or performance standards for all parties. Those regulations do not account for the differences across firms in their abatement costs. In the case of electricity utilities, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Clean Air Act required that all utilities install flue gas scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide even if some emitted little sulfur dioxide because they used natural gas or low-sulfur coal in their power plants.
While dangerous pollutants still threaten the health of millions of Americans, the United States has made great strides in clearing the air, according to the American Lung Association.
In its annual State of the Air 2012 report, the organization said that between 2001 and 2010, ozone levels dropped 13%, year-round particle pollution declined 24% and short-term particle pollution 28% thanks to the Clean Air Act.
Particle pollution includes things like dust, metals, smoke, exhaust and acids, like nitrates and sulfates. Ozone, meanwhile, is created when a chemical or fossil fuel, like coal or gasoline, is partially burned and the unburned hydrocarbons, when combined with ultraviolet light, form a gas.
Amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990, which included the promotion of the use of natural gas and low sulfur fuel, have resulted in 23,000 fewer premature deaths in 2010, averted 1.7 million asthma attacks and prevented 4.1 million lost work days, according to The Environmental Protection Agency.
Apparently, ’ job destroying’ is a phrase they are attaching to most things now. As if everyone who is concerned about the environment is secretly hoping to destroy jobs. MWAHAHAH! MY EVIL PLAN TO DESTROY MY JOB AND LIFE IS FINALLY IN REACH! (I personally blame rock & roll for my slide into madness.)
WASHINGTON — Now that the House of Representatives has voted to repeal the health care law, Republicans say they’re likely to move soon to another target — a rewrite of the Clean Air Act so that it can’t be used to fight climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency in December said it would draw up performance standards that would help cut heat-trapping gases produced by refineries and coal-fired power plants. The EPA hasn’t proposed the specifics yet, and existing plants wouldn’t be affected until the later years of the decade, but opponents of regulation aren’t waiting.
The new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said he’d have hearings about the impact of the EPA’s emission reduction plan on jobs.
“Standing up for American workers and addressing EPA’s rampant regulations is a top priority, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said Thursday. “We will be active and aggressive using every tool in the toolbox to protect American jobs and our economy by rolling back the job-destroying (greenhouse gas) regulations.”
Clean Air Act Under Attack | FrumForum
January 20th, 2011
By David Jenkins
Republicans today would do well to echo Nixon and Reagan rather than Congressman Whitfield. If Americans become convinced that Republicans have abandoned the stewardship “duty” that President Reagan spoke so eloquently about and are too cavalier with their health, the political “balance” will not be all that healthy for the GOP in 2012.
Typically, when politicians stake out a position against laws that limit pollution, they are careful to indicate support for the underlying goal of a clean and healthy environment. Time and again we have heard the defensive refrain, “nobody wants dirty air.”
Well, apparently the new chair of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, Ed Whitfield (R-KY) thinks that some dirty air is okay and is not afraid to say so.
In a recent interview with National Journal Daily, the coal state Republican talked about his desire to roll back provisions of the Clean Air Act, saying:
This is a much broader issue than the health of the American people and lungs and emphysema; it’s how can we balance that in the global marketplace for jobs.
Your lungs or your job. Is that the trade-off that Whitfield is asking American voters to accept? There likely wouldn’t be many takers.