US Congress mulls bill to strip EPA of greenhouse gases role

09 February 2011 20:19  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--Congressional Republican leaders on Wednesday moved to repeal US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to regulate and limit industrial emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), charging that the agency has no authority to do so.

In the first House of Representatives hearing on legislation that would undo the agency’s efforts to relieve what it regards as US-generated damage to the global climate, Congressman Ed Whitfield (Republican-Kentucky) said that EPA was pursing policy that Congress had already rejected and current law does not authorise.

Whitfield is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, which heard testimony on Wednesday from the EPA, private companies and state officials on a bill co-authored by Whitfield that largely would bar the agency from regulating greenhouse gases at all.

Under regulations that began to go into effect on 2 January this year, EPA has required electric utilities, refineries, petrochemical plants and other major production facilities to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and five other greenhouse gases.

The agency’s GHG regulations flow from a ruling EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made in December 2009 that carbon dioxide and other gases pose a health hazard because they cause global warming and consequently are subject to the agency’s regulation under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

However, that 2009 “endangerment finding” and EPA’s subsequent rules were broadly opposed by a broad spectrum of US industry and business interests, including chemical makers, who argued that the rules would cause sharp increases in energy costs and force more US production capacity and jobs overseas.

The finding and the resulting regulations also have been challenged in multiple federal lawsuits by businesses and state governments.

Whitfield noted that last year, Congress declined to enact climate change legislation that would have imposed a “cap-and-trade” system to gradually reduce US emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Although Congress has made its position abundantly clear not to regulate GHGs, we now have unelected staff at EPA ... pushing the US down a path that in my opinion will cost jobs and make us less competitive in the global market place,” Whitfield said.

“Many of us are concerned that EPA’s regulations are all about artificially raising the cost of using coal and other fossil fuels in order to drive them out of the marketplace,” Whitfield said.

Among those testifying was Senator James Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma), who was sponsoring the Whitfield bill in the Senate.

“I’m not here to debate science,” Inhofe told the committee, referring to the controversy over whether there was sound scientific evidence that human activity - burning fossil fuels - was causing global warming.

“So let’s assume that predictions of more droughts, more floods, more intense storms and more cases of disease are true,” Inhofe said. “What we do know is that EPA’s regulations won’t affect any of this.”

He said that the agency’s own analysis showed that even significant reductions of US emissions of greenhouse gases would have no meaningful impact on the world’s climate, although the GHG limitations would cost the US economy some $400bn (€292bn) annually.

“In other words, all pain for no gain,” he said.

“The point is this: it is unfair and unacceptable to ask the steel worker in Ohio, the chemical plant worker in Michigan and the coal miner in West Virginia to sacrifice their jobs so we can reduce global temperature by a barely detectable amount in 100 years,” Inhofe said.

EPA chief Jackson argued that there is “a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that the climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities”.

Those changes, she told the panel, would have profound effects on society, the global economy and pose significant risk to the wellbeing of the American public.

She warned that if Congress were to pass legislation undoing her endangerment finding and GHG regulations, it would cause “debilitating and expensive illnesses” for millions of Americans.

The Republican-majority House was expected to eventually pass Whitfield’s bill, but the real fight over EPA’s greenhouse gases role would be later this year in the Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority.

($1 = €0.73)

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