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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

House Republicans Fight EPA over Greenhouse Gases

Air Date: Week of

Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif), previously the chair -- and now ranking member -- of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. (Photo: Bridgette Blair)

The Republican-chaired House Energy and Commerce Committee wants to wrestle power from the Environmental Protection Agency. But the former committee chair, California Democrat Henry Waxman, maintains that the science of climate change should not be a partisan issue. He tells host Bruce Gellerman why the laws of nature can't be negotiated.


GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville Mass, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. Tune in to a daytime soap opera and you get melodrama, accusations, and denials - but if you sat through a recent daylong congressional hearing, you'd get that and more. The hearing, held by the Republican controlled House Energy and Power subcommittee, featured EPA administrator Lisa Jackson as the star witness. She was called to defend her agency's plans to regulate greenhouse gases.

Four years ago the US Supreme Court ruled the EPA has the authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce climate-changing emissions - but now House republicans have introduced a bill that would prevent the Agency from taking action. Democrat Henry Waxman, the ranking minority member on the committee, had a front row seat at the dramatic hearing.

WAXMAN: The very premise of this legislation is that the science is a hoax, in fact we start off the hearing with Senator Inhofe who told us he's writing a book and he's going to call it “Hoax,” because he thinks that the work of the National Academy of Sciences and all the scientific agencies that have been looking at the carbon problem are perpetrating a hoax on the American people. And it's amazing to me that the idea of science should be partisan.

GELLERMAN: Well, Republican Congressmen John Shimkus of Illinois said in his remarks, he said, "This is about jobs, this isn't about science."

WAXMAN: If we would have done something to reduce the carbon emissions as we had proposed last year, we would have created millions of new jobs. We would be way ahead of the other countries in the world that are further along than we are, producing ways to deliver energy without the pollution from carbon.

And the main thrust of the proposals by EPA is to require reductions in emissions through efficiency. And anytime industry becomes more efficient, it becomes more competitive and we produce more jobs. So I think that a lot of the Republicans, they think they're doing these industries a favor by trying to keep the status quo and stop anything from happening. I think they're doing a disservice to the American people who want jobs, cheaper energy, less dependent on foreign oil, and an environment that is going to be protected, not thrown into disregard.

GELLERMAN: Well, you obviously see it much differently than Republican Representative Joe Barton, who, in his opening remarks said, quote, “The EPA and the Obama Administration have decided that they want to put the American economy in a straight-jacket, costing us millions of jobs and billions of dollars a year.”

WAXMAN: Well, I think that's an astonishing statement. I guess I have to look back at 36 years in the Congress. From the first day I arrived here in 1975, I sat through hearings on the Clean Air Act, where industry after industry testified that they thought any environmental laws would hurt them, and would hurt our economy and cost us jobs.
And the history of the Clean Air Act since 1970, and especially since the 1990 amendments to it, have been exactly the opposite. Our businesses have been more competitive, our environment has been cleaner, and we've had the economy grow and more jobs as well, and sometimes as a result.

GELLERMAN: This hearing was about a Republican introduced measure called the “Energy Tax Prevention Act,” and basically this would stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

WAXMAN: Well, the title is the first misleading aspect of the legislation, because EPA cannot impose a tax. They use that word ‘tax' because they know that people don't like taxes. But when you look at what they're trying to do, they didn't want to pass the legislation to deal with global warming, climate change - they fought against that in the last year. And now that the EPA is acting under the existing law, as required by a five-to-four Supreme Court decision in interpreting the law, they want to stop the EPA from acting.

And they not only want to do that, they want to stop California and other states from tightening down on auto emissions in the future. In effect, they want nothing to be done. This is a very extreme, very extreme measure. And I can't imagine that it'll get through all the way to the President or, if it got that far, he wouldn't veto it.

GELLERMAN: Before the hearing, you sent a letter to the chairman of the full committee, Fred Upton, that was from Steve Johnson, who was the EPA administrator under the George W. Bush administration. And he says in that letter, that the EPA should regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Former EPA administrator Stephen Johnson told President George W. Bush that the EPA should regulate greenhouse gas emissions, according to documents revealed from Congressman Waxman's investigation.

WAXMAN: Yes, and he wrote to the President of the United States saying that the science requires them to make this finding and to do the regulations under the Clean Air Act. So he wanted to do something and he felt he had to do something because the science required it. Now the Republicans are saying that the science is a hoax, and that the EPA shouldn't have the ability to regulate, even though the court has said that they must.

And what we wanted to point out was: even in the Bush Administration, the head of the EPA, the administrator Stephen Johnson, came to the same conclusions as Lisa Jackson, the existing administrator at EPA. So this is not a partisan conclusion, although Mr. Johnson certainly got the signal from the Bush White House that they didn't want him to go forward, so he didn't move anymore than just simply indicate that the White House, and he was going to reach an endangerment finding.

So, we pointed that outÂ…I think it's important for the American people to figure out that this is not some Democratic party Obama Administration plot, it's what the science and it's what the law requires. They could maybe change the law if the Republicans want to, but they can't amend the laws of nature, and they can't decide that science doesn't count and not have the impact that we know is going to continue with all of the accumulation of the carbon emissions in our atmosphere.



Learn more about the energy and environment views of Congressman Fred Upton, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Click here to read Johnson's letter to President Bush.


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