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Republicans and Big Oil Deny Global Warming and Attack Clean Air Act

Republicans as “Last Bastion of Polluters and Science Deniers” (Waxman)

I listened to the new Republican controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing yesterday on a bill to reverse the 2007 Supreme Court’s “Massachusetts” decision and strip EPA of the power to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Clean Air Act. (hit link for the hearing testimony)

Taking a page out of Orwell, the Republican bill was titled “The Energy Tax Prevention Act“.

To get a grasp of the broader meaning of what is going on, watch “How Climate Change Became a ‘Liberal Hoax’ “

You really can’t make this stuff up – the Committee’s lead witness was notorious global warming denier Senator Inhoffe, yet NO SCIENTISTS were allowed to testify by the Republican leadership.

In a deeply cynical move, the Republicans invited the National Black Chamber of Commerce to slam the Obama Administration’s regulatory policy, including the temporary off shore drilling moratorium imposed after the Gulf of Mexico disaster. Shamefully, the NBCoC representative blamed departed Energy Czar Carol Browner, not EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, for the problems.

The American Farm Bureau Federation testimony repeatedly lied and fear mongered about the impact of EPA GHG rules, which do not even apply to agriculture.

Mr. Fred T. Harnack of US Steel was the only industry witness to put his cards on the table. Although EPA’s proposed GG rules would not even apply to US steel plants, Harnack attacked other EPA proposed rules, including a proposed new lower NAAQS for ground level ozone and EPA’s “boiler MACT” rule (see below for important details).

Harnack recommended that the Committee ramp up attacks and hold additional hearings to rollback core protections under the Clean Air Act, by focusing on: 1) cumulative economic impacts of EPA rules (citing Obama’snew Executive Order on regulatory review); 2) role of technology; 3) EPA Guidance and testing methods; 4) multi-media and multi-pollutant approaches; and 5) state and federal resource levels and (in)competence.

Republicans on the Committee – dominated by oil producing states Texas and Lousianna – spent their 5 minutes of fame hammering EPA and simply making shit up.

They falsely claimed that EPA rules would: 1) cause rolling blackouts, 2) double food prices, 3) destroy family farms, 4) block $300 billion in economic investments that could create 1.5 million new jobs, 5) close US manufacturing plants, 6) kill thousands of jobs, export jobs, etc.

Republican members did all this while ignoring or denying science and manufacturing fear. Not surprisingly, the same slogans are being used and similar arguments are now being made in NJ.

EPA testimony that independent studies show that Clean Air Act regulations have provided economic benefits that exceed costs by a factor of 30 -1 was ignored (or mocked at one point).

Although the necessary focus of the hearing was on EPA’s Clean Air Act “endangerment finding” – mandated by the Supreme Court in the Massachusetts decision – there was virtually NO TESTIMONY on this finding. EPA found that GHG emissions endanger human health and welfare,

A full discussion of exactly how GHG emissions and global warming interact with existing criteria pollutants to harm public health would have helped deflect Republican claims that their opponents were engaging in “scare tactics” by falsely claiming that the bill would rollback the Clean Air Act standards for criteria pollutants like ozone. The bill is limited to EPA GHG jurisdiction.

Once this endangerment finding is made, EPA is legally required to regulate GHG pollution sources.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson did a pretty good job of defending the Obama Administration’s policy, EPA’s “endangerment finding”, and various other EPA proposed regulations that came under attack during her 2 hour and 20 minute testimony. This was Jackson’s strongest pushback:

 “This 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

As is usual, the US media kept the public in the dark [corrrection: at least the NY Times headline was harsh, including another story with a link the the Tea Party] while foreign media did far more in depth and honest coverage. Here’s a teste from the Guardian (of London):

Republicans propose $1.6bn cut to Environmental Protection Agency

After challenging agency’s legal authority over CO2 emissions, cut largest of 70 budgetary measures put forward by party

Republicans have launched an attack on the Obama administration‘s powers to act on climate change, proposing a 17% budget cut to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In a follow-up strike, they repeatedly challenged the legal authority of the agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions during a contentious hearing in Congress.

The proposed $1.6bn (£1bn) cut to the EPA was the largest in dollar terms of some 70 budgetary measures put forward by Republicans on Wednesday.

Lisa Jackson, the EPA chief, said the attacks were part of a larger Republican project to roll back years of environmental and safety protections.

“I think this is a serious effort to weaken the clean air act,” she said.

Jackson and the EPA have emerged as prime targets for the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, who have promised to block what they say are “job-killing” regulations.

The energy and commerce committee is now under the control of a Republican, Fred Upton, who told a seminar this week he did not believe in man-made climate change.

Perhaps the ultimate irony – for those with an understanding of regulatory nuance and listening closely to Jackson’s testimony –  is that Jackson was defending a moderate if not weak set of EPA proposed (not yet adopted) regulations. All these EPA proposals are now in the process of being weakened further under Obama’s new “bipartisan” economic development policy.

The Obama global warming policy and proposed EPA regulations at issue are so modest that major players in the energy industry generally support them. Jackson repeatedly advised the Committee of that industry support.

As I’ve previously noted, in response to Republican opposition and corporate attack, EPA is in regulatory retreat across a very broad front.

Previously proposed EPA clean air and global warming related rules being weakened include:

1) The EPA GHG “tailoring rule” applies only to GHG emissions sources greater than 100,000 tons per year. (we wrote about that here).

In contrast, the Clean Air Act defines “major sources” as those with emissions greater than 100 tons per year. EPA simply made up the 100,000 ton threshold out of thin air.

Although this “tailoring” rule is under political attack, ironically it was done to protect industry from over-regulation (there are about 6 million sources above 100 tons, while EPA “tailoring” applies to just 550 of the largest sources).

EPA’s concession in “tailoring” regulatory requirements not only lacks a sound scientific and legal basis, it has had the unintended consequence of inviting political challenge and calls for Congress to amend the Clean Air Act.

In fact, valid legal criticisms of EPA’s tailoring rule were the only intellectually coherent pro-industry arguments made all day. Those arguments tend to support Republican calls for Congress, as the legislative branch – not EPA – to make law and set policy.

2) In December 2010, EPA issued “Best Available Control Technology” (BACT) for GHG source controls . It is limited in scope to energy efficiency measures that will produce marginal emissions reductions, perhaps a maximum of 5%.

Even the Business Roundtable, a conservative business group that strongly opposes EPA regulations did not oppose the EPA BACT. The Roundtable tends to exagerate the impact of EPA rules, yet they understand that EPA could have done far more under the BACT but chose to make small technical changes.

The Roundtable ackowledged this in a January 7, 2011 letter, replying to incoming Republican Chairman Darrel Issa’s request for a business community list of rules to target for rollback:

“On December 23,  2010, EPA  also  indicated  that  it  intended  to promulgate  New  Source  Performance  Standard  (NSPS)  regulations  for major sources.  In general, the  PSD   program  requires  sources  to  apply  the best  available  control  technology (BACT)  to  limit emissions  of  air pollutants,  determined  on  a  case-by-case  basis,  and  the  NSPS  program establishes a  floor - on what this technology  can be.  At this time, there  is  no readily  available  commercial  technology  to  limit  GHG  emissions.  On November 10, 2010, EPA  issued  BACT  guidance  for  the  states  to implement.   In  general,  this  guidance  calls  for  a  reliance  on efficiency  measures,  rather  than  fuel  switching  or entirely  new, unproven  technology  to  control  GHG emissions.”

3. EPA announcement of scheduled proposal of “New Source Performance Standards” for refineries and power plants. EPA is in “listenening mode” and has not proposed anything, and it is not likely that new EPA NSPS will go beyond the December State BACT guidance (I’ve analyzed that plan here).

These complex regulatory issues have been greatly misunderstood as a radical overreach by EPA that will shut down 150 existing coal plants and/or force them to retrofit to “cleaner” natural gas fuel sources.

Even the NY Times is confused, as evidenced by this February 5 editorial “Clean Air Under Siege” which erroneously concluded:

“The modest regulations the agency has already proposed, plus stronger ones it will issue later this year, should lead to the retirement of many of the nation’s older, dirtier coal-fired power plants and a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions.”

As the Business Roundtable noted above, EPA is taking very small and ineffective steps, limited to energy efficiency. EPA will not mandate or induce fuel switching, shutdown, or renewable power.

4) EPA “boiler MACT

Administrator Jackson testified to the Committee yesterday that EPA’s proposed “boiler MACT” rule would be “substantially changed” (i.e weakened).

Again, let’s rely on the Business Roundtable to describe what is going on (look closley at how they view the nature of the “risks” – certainly not as risks to human health):

Section 112 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires EPA to establish National  Emissions  Standards  for  Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAPS)  for major  (and area)  sources of hazardous  air pollutants (HAPS)  that   are  subject  to  regulation. Pursuant to a consent decree approved by  the  U.S. District  Court  for  the District  of  Columbia,  EPA  is required to issue  a proposed  rule  for the  regulation  of  HAPS  emissions  from  coal and oil-fired utility boilers by March 16, 2011  and to finalize the rule by November 16, 2011.  It is anticipated  that  any  final  rule  will  require  the  installation  of  costly  new [pollution] control  equipment at virtually every existing coal-fired utility boiler.  In addition, it  is  not clear if  technology is available  to  meet  the  anticipated  standards  if EPA  does not  use  its authority  to sub-categorize  or tailor  its  regulations depending  on  coal types.  Regardless  of the  final  form  of  the rule,  it  is  anticipated  that  significant  coal  generating  capacity  will  be  at risk  for  closure  as a  consequence  of   the  rule.

5. Biomasson January 12, 2011, EPA announced its plan to defer, for three years, greenhouse gas (GHG) permitting requirements for carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from biomass-fired and other biogenic sources.

Is the proposed new ozone standard next to take the political hit?

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