The right to pollute is getting a big push from pals of the fossil fuel industries, most of them aiming at curtailing the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
West Virginia’s senior Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller would call a two-year timeout on EPA regulations.
House and Senate committee leaders Fred Upton (R-MI) and James Inhofe (R-OK) would strip EPA’s authority to limit CO2 and methane under the Clean Air Act.
Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso would hurl Congress off the deep end. His legislation would forbid federal greenhouse gas limits under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Barrasso also would bar federal courts from hearing nuisance litigation against greenhouse gas emissions. And, leaving the states’ rights slogans to the Tea Party rallies, it would strip the states of some of their authority to enact their own limits.
Barrasso’s bill doesn’t include language repealing the laws of physics, but it might as well have.
Then, there’s Newt Gingrich, for whom pursuit of the presidency is a lodestar and everything else is negotiable. Gingrich understands climate quite well, especially the direction of prevailing political winds.
His latest shift with the gusts was a proposal to abolish EPA and replace it with something called an Environmental Solutions Agency – which would be little more than an “Ask Newt” advice column – authorized to dispense helpful hints and little else. Breathtaking, in so many ways.
Drilling down, what are the motives driving this outbreak of congressional EPA-bashing?
Upton is a question mark. Until recently, he acknowledged that climate change is a problem. That was before he secured the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee, to the chagrin of anti-government purists who suspect that Upton lacks a fondness for tinfoil hats. Teacup and gavel in hand, Upton might still be trying too hard to show frowning activists that he’s not an agent of the light bulb police.
There’s no mystery with Inhofe. He’s developed a brand identity labeling climate change a hoax – masterminded by who knows what omnipotent conspiracy for God knows what reason.
Barrasso doesn’t play in the climate-change-is-a-hoax pool with anything like Inhofe’s panache. His focus is protecting Wyoming’s carbonucopia of fossil fuels. The provision reining in the states is aimed at keeping them from getting uppity like California, which in 2007 barred new contracts for purchase of coal-generated electricity from out of state.
Rockefeller is trying to paddle down the middle of this turbulent stream, arguing that he isn’t up for killing off EPA, but that limiting greenhouse gas emissions should be left to Congress.
It’s not a bad argument. Except that Rockefeller did next to nothing in the last Congress to push such legislation, on which he could have applied useful leverage to crank up federal support for carbon sequestration as a way to clean up coal and keep it in the game.
There’s another crack in Rocky’s argument. Legislated enforcement delays have a habit of sticking around for a long time, because they turn into entitlements for the industries and interest groups that they benefit.
Look at the long congressional freeze on updating motor vehicle fuel economy standards. It took painfully high oil prices and the near-destruction of the U.S. auto industry to end the freeze and adjust standards to catch up with new technology.
Let’s hope Congress, in a shortsighted venture into EPA-bashing, doesn’t behave similarly with carbon pollution – stubbornly letting it build up, like the national debt, until a crisis forces action more drastic than anyone would like.