INSIGHT: House panel builds case against EPA climate rules

10 February 2011 17:24  [Source: ICIS news]

By Joe Kamalick

EPA reading of key Supreme Court ruling is challengedWASHINGTON (ICIS)--Congressional Republicans this week launched their case against federal rules limiting industrial emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), attacking the regulations on legal and practical grounds with a goal of completely undoing the policy.

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Power held the first hearing on a bill called The Energy Tax Prevention Act, which largely would bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gases at all.

Subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield (Republican-Kentucky), one of the co-authors of the bill, said that the EPA was pursuing policy that Congress had already rejected and current law does not authorise. 

Whitfield, whose state economy depends heavily on mining, also accused the EPA and the Obama administration of waging war on domestic coal production.

The other co-authors of the legislation are Representative Fred Upton (Republican-Michigan), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Under regulations that began to go into effect on 2 January this year, the 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 the EPA’s subsequent rules were broadly opposed by a broad spectrum of US industry and business interests, including chemical makers, which 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 have also 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.

“Let’s face it,” he added, “these regulations and others from EPA amount to a war on domestic coal.”

Noting that coal is the most abundant US energy source and that it fuels half of the country’s electric power generation, Whitfield charged that “EPA’s global warming regulations are tailor-made to raise energy costs for customers of any utility or manufacturer that uses coal as a fuel source”.

“EPA has lost sight of its environmental protection role and is trying to set industrial policy,” he said.

Senator Inhofe, invited by Whitfield to testify as a hearing witness, challenged the EPA greenhouse gases ruling on practical grounds, arguing that the programme would have no impact on global temperatures but would shutter US manufacturing facilities and ship jobs abroad.

“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 noted that the EPA’s own 2008 analysis of a House-approved climate change bill “shows that without aggressive action by China and India, cap-and-trade won’t reduce greenhouse gases by any meaningful amount”.

Even if China, India, Europe, Russia and most other industrial or developing countries joined the US in making drastic cuts in GHG emissions, the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that “global temperatures would be reduced by, at most, 0.21 degrees Celsius by 2100”.

“In other words, the Earth would warm by about 6% less than it normally would.”

Inhofe 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.

In an extensive legal analysis, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott argued that the EPA’s GHG rules are invalid on constitutional grounds and within the context of the Clean Air Act itself and federal administrative procedure requirements.

Abbott told the House subcommittee that the EPA first went wrong on the greenhouse gases issue when the agency misread the meaning of a key US Supreme Court ruling.

The EPA contends that the April 2007 high court judgement in Massachusetts vs EPA established agency authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases and, additionally, directed that the EPA was required to regulate them.

That EPA reading of the Supreme Court ruling was in error, Abbott said.

“Contrary to what some have claimed, the Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts vs EPA did not require the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide or any other greenhouse gas,” he said.

“The Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are ‘air pollutants’ as defined in the Act, but the court’s opinion clearly states that the court ‘need not and does not reach the question of whether’ carbon dioxide is the kind of air pollutant the EPA must regulate under the Clear Air Act,” Abbott said.

In her testimony, EPA chief Jackson stuck to her climate change guns, arguing 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 and the global economy, and pose significant risk to the wellbeing of the American public.

She warned that if Congress was 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 the EPA’s greenhouse gases role would be later this year in the Senate, in which the Democrats hold a narrow majority.

Even in that chamber, however, there is a good chance that enough Democrat senators - many of whom represent states that produce coal or are dependent on coal-fired electricity and who are up for re-election next year - would join with Republicans to deny the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

 ($1 = €0.73)

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By: Joe Kamalick
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