Will Obama stand up under pressure on EPA regulation of greenhouse gases?

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As congressional Republicans ramp up their effort to kill EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act -- it's included in the new House budget resolution slated for debate tomorrow -- will President Obama uphold EPA’s authority, or trade it away? Where is the bottom line on climate-related regulatory policy?

House Republican FY 2011 budget slashing resolution slated for floor action tomorrow

See earlier post:  House Republicans seeking to use crucial budget resolution to kill EPA greenhouse gas regulation

Today the Obama administration rolled out it’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2012 (which begins on October 1, 2011). We’ll have more on that shortly in subsequent posts.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are expected to bring to the House floor tomorrow (February 15) a resolution to slash spending for the current FY 2011. The federal government is operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) that basically keeps spending at the FY 2010 level. The House CR would fund the government through September 30. It would systematically wipe out much of the federal government's work related to climate change, gut the Environmental Protection Agency by a devastating $3 billion from a current budget of about $10 billion. And it would flatly prohibit EPA from implementing regulation of greenhouse gas emissions (except for near-term tailpipe emissions regulation already agreed to by the corporations).

House hearing February 9 on legislation to repeal EPA “Endangerment Finding” and prohibit greenhouse gas regulation

See earlier post:  Draft Republican bill would repeal EPA scientific “Endangerment Finding” on greenhouse gases and prohibit regulation

The introduction of the House Republican CR was preceded by a hearing held on February 9 by the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Titled “H.R. ___, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011,” the hearing was intended to showcase and build support for legislation that would repeal EPA’s science-based “Endangerment Finding” on greenhouse gases and prohibit regulation.

This was the first hearing in the new Congress in which Republican members could begin to create a legislative hearing record for their assault on EPA’s regulatory authority. Republican committee members attacked the legal, scientific, and economic basis for GHG regulation. While the hearing had been framed in terms of the structure of existing and pending EPA rulemakings and the economic costs to business of compliance, much of the discussion also focused on the issue of the climate science basis for EPA’s December 2009 “Endangerment Finding” that provided the statutory trigger for regulation.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made a strong statement on how, pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, the agency had followed required regulatory procedure under the Clean Air Act to reach a scientifically-based conclusion as a foundation for initiating regulation of emissions. This conclusion was backed by the massive scientific literature synthesized in reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

In effect, the draft bill put forward by committee chair Fred Upton of Michigan and subcommittee chair Ed Whitfield of Kentucky would explicitly overturn the Supreme Court ruling and the scientific finding that emissions of greenhouse gases endanger human health and public welfare.  In her opening statement Jackson said, “Chairman Upton’s bill would, in its own words, repeal the scientific finding regarding greenhouse gas emissions. Politicians overriding scientists on a scientific question – that would become part of this committee’s legacy.”

For documents and video of the hearing, see text of the draft bill, a background memo by committee majority staff, an archived webcast,  the witness list, opening statements, and written testimony posted on the committee’s website.

The Upton bill is just one of several legislative thrusts, including at least one coming from the Democratic side in the Senate, aimed at either delaying or killing outright the regulation of GHG emissions.  In this effort, Rep. Upton, Sen. Inhofe of Oklahoma, and other representatives of anti-regulatory corporate interests on the Hill will ally with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Mining Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and the like.

Senate Republicans would need to get at least 12 Democrats to align with them on this issue in order to reach the 60-vote threshold neded for the Senate to go along with the action likely to be taken in the House.  The situation is not helped by the chronic, ongoing divisions among Democrats in the Senate, and the concerns of some of the Dems who may see themselves as vulnerable in their re-election campaigns in 2012 to how the public perceives the issues of climate change, government regulation, unemployment, and economic growth.

Will Obama stand up on EPA regulation?

How will President Obama and Senate Democrats respond to the considerable pressure being mounted against EPA’s regulatory authority?  Obama lately has nearly abandoned even talking about climate change. 

A year ago I criticized Obama’s 2010 State of the Union address for being evasive on climate change. I questioned White House science adviser John Holdren about that at the National Climate Adaptation Summit in Washington DC in May 2010.  He acknowledged the need for Obama to speak to the public directly, not just through surrogates among his administration officials.

This year, in his State of the Union address in January, Obama solved his problem of having to face vocal opposition to any statement acknowledging the reality of the climate change problem by avoiding the subject entirely. Silence.

Climate change was far from being the only issue not mentioned in the address. Obama didn’t say anything about the war in Afghanistan, gun control, and other issues that don’t quite fit the innovation and competitiveness narrative. But climate change was certainly a big, noticeable omission. Andy Revkin in the New York Times talked about it (“Obama Ducks and Covers on Climate”), as did Joe Romm at Climate Progress (“Obama calls for massive boost in low-carbon energy, but doesn’t mention carbon, climate or warming”)  and others. And, while Obama did talk about clean energy development, Dave Roberts at Grist made the point, which I have also argued, that the looming threat of climate change may be the only concern that lends true urgency to the need for a large-scale government intervention to expedite a radical change in the energy system (“For the last time: no, clean energy is not a substitute for climate change”). 

This, combined with Obama’s apparent courting of corporate support in his recent shift (at least rhetorically) to the right on regulatory policy (more on this later), raises the question of how unyielding he will be on greenhouse gas regulation.  How much will he fight to maintain EPA's authority in the face of a relentless attack, if he isn't even willing to talk with the public about the significance of global climate change?  How else do you defend regulation of greenhouse gases?  How much pressure from ‘climate hawks’ will it take in order to keep EPA authority from, say, being traded away as part of a larger budget deal, or in connection with negotiating an energy bill? Personally, I find it a bit difficult to be optimistic about where Obama will be when this deal goes down.

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5 Responses to Will Obama stand up under pressure on EPA regulation of greenhouse gases?

  1. Robert E. Wozna says:

    Politicians alligned with industrial leaders from energy companies are seemingly gaining ground in killing any efforts to ward off disasters caused by our addiction to fossil fuel use. This is unfortunate because the science is crystal clear on what carbon dioxide does to our atmosphere. It happened previously with tobacco smoking, ozone hole depletion, and so many other environmental concerns whereby conservative republicans or whatever you want to call them were most concerned with keeping their pocketbooks loaded that they convinced themselves these environmental issues were unimportant despite what our scientists have learned. Their tactics are such that the general public is being convinced there is no problem. I would hope Obama would fend off politicians attempts to kill funding for the EPA and the IPCC but even if he does, who will be next in the White House?

  2. ramon nelson says:

    In the long term, this attenuated sort of EPA regulation alone isn't likely to result in the carbon reductions that America needs to participate seriously in the global response to climate change; it might cut emissions by 5 percent of 2005 levels by 2020, not the 17 percent that is Obama's stated policy. Congress will have to act, and sooner is better. In the meantime, modest EPA regulation can achieve some valuable ends and keep pressure on Congress to do more.

  3. Mark Anderson says:

    Regretably, I think Obama will knuckle under. He has shown of late a propensity to drift right of center to placate the Republicans. With the economy faltering and everyone screaming about jobs and getting business to hire again, Obama will suck up to big business. No doubt in my mind, but I hope he tells them he is he is standing pat and they need to put on their big boy boxers and deal with it.

  4. rabbit says:

    The EPA simply has too much power.

    Thus even if controlling green house gas production is good thing, for the EPA to unilaterally assume that power is bad

    • Robert E. Wozna says:

      rabbit, I don't believe EPA is saying power is bad. We'll be using fossil fuels for a long time to come-no way of getting completely away from them very soon. However, scientists have discovered for some time that our fossil fuel use is releasing great amounts of greenhouse gases like CO2 into the atmosphere. There is no dispute from the scientific community that this is causing the planet to warm and this is upsetting the balance of many different ecosystems. If we're ever going to reduce this rate of rise (now near 391 ppm), we are going to have to cut our fossil fuel use by obtaining some of our energy from sources that do not add greenhouse gases. However, the political leaders of this country are presently fiercely doing everything possible to keep renewable energy use at a minimum. The EPA and the IPCC are apparently looking like a trouble-makers to energy producers and they want to curtail their power or abolish them all together.

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