EPA greenhouse gas rules upheld but the attack continues in Congress

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Defenders of regulation of greenhouse gases and strong climate policy were an articulate minority at a recent House hearing designed, as usual, mainly to beat up on the Environmental Protection Agency. A federal appeals court today issued a slam-dunk ruling in favor of EPA in the face of a challenge by corporate interests and denialist politicians and policy groups. But don’t expect an end to congressional attempts to impede EPA from moving forward.

The New York Times reports:

Court Backs E.P.A. on Emissions Rules

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a finding by the Environmental Protection Agency that heat-trapping gases from industry and vehicles endanger public health, dealing a decisive blow to companies and states that had sued to block agency rules….

The judges unanimously dismissed arguments from industry that the science of global warming was not well supported and that the agency had based its judgment on unreliable studies. “This is how science works,” the judges wrote. “The E.P.A. is not required to reprove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.”

Aside from the E.P.A.’s so-called “endangerment finding,” the court upheld related rules setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions…

On June 19 CSW was on Capitol Hill attending a House hearing on EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, as well as its mandatory reporting program.  While environmental advocates William Chameides, Dan Weiss, and David Doniger argued that the regulations would provide a desperately needed step in the right direction for combating global climate disruption, the GOP and its industry-representative allies used the familiar arguments of climate change denialism, EPA-bashing, alleged job loss, and rising energy prices.

The hearing, held by the Subcommittee on Energy and Power (part of the Committee on Energy and Commerce), featured two diverse witness panels.  At issue specifically were greenhouse gas regulations and regulatory burdens associated with implementation, potential impacts of these regulations on construction and facility expansion, impacts on energy costs, the status of carbon sequestration technologies, and the potential impacts of these regulations on jobs and the economy.  The hearing page with archived webcast can be found here, along with the opening statements and the witnesses’ written testimony.

Panel 1 consisted of four industry representatives alongside Dan Weiss from the Center for American Progress and Dr. William Chameides, dean at Duke University and co-author of the National Research Council report, America’s Climate Choices.  Industry representatives included Rob MacKie (President, American Baker’s Association); Charles Smith (President, CountryMark Cooperative); Gerry Sweeny (President Rain CII Carbon); and Carl Schaffer (President, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau).  Dr. Louis Cox, an MIT-educated mathematician, aided industry arguments with his statistical analysis that concludes that reductions in greenhouse gases will have no positive impacts on human health in terms of toxicity.

Panel 2 consisted of three energy executives and David Doniger, Policy Director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Clearly, those advocating for regulation of greenhouse gases were in the minority – not surprising considering the partisan makeup of the House at present.

Although EPA allies were outnumbered in the witness panel and on the committee, Congressmen Bobby Rush (D-Illinois), Henry Waxman (D-California), and John Sarbanes (D-Maryland) were vocal supporters of greenhouse gas regulation.  They cited scientific consensus on the causes of climate change, the wide-ranging impacts Americans currently face and will continue to battle in the future, as well as the urgent need for large-scale action to prevent the worst climate change impacts from occurring.

Congressman Rush opened with some well-placed statements regarding GOP strategy behind the hearing: “Today’s hearing continues the concerted effort by those in the majority party to wither the authority of the EPA and de-legitimize the EPA’s regulations as unnecessary job killers.  Today we will hear more tall tales that attempt to debunk facts and lead us to believe that any policy that regulates greenhouse gases will automatically lead to an increase in job loss. However it is extremely important for all of us to remember that just because a few industry sources tell us that regulating greenhouse gases will be costly and will yield little to no benefit does not make it true.”

Waxman continued in the same vein.  “Today’s hearing is no surprise but it is deeply disappointing.  The Republican majority is holding yet another hearing to condemn EPA action to reduce carbon pollution.  Eighteen months into this Congress, the majority still denies the threat of climate change, and recklessly rejects any action to stop one of the greatest dangers facing the world today,” he said.

Sarbanes noted that his home state of Maryland has already been impacted by human-induced climate change (and so making this Maryland resident very proud): “Adaptation and mitigation both need to be undertaken if we’re going to make progress on this problem,” he said.  “Maryland has worked hard to explore all the dimensions of adaptation – the extensive shoreline is already facing significant erosion.”  In fact, Rising waters have swallowed thirteen Chesapeake Bay islands. “What are the consequences if the Feds don’t step up in planning?” he asked.

Dr. Chameides’s answer captured the urgency depicted in climate change science and its projected impacts:  “Climate change is already happening, and the full impacts of what we emit today won’t manifest themselves for another thirty years,” he said.  “We need to understand that as we make decisions on infrastructure and energy planning, climate change must be an integral part of our thinking.”

Climate change is occurring, caused by human activities, and poses a significant risk to our society, Dr. Chameides said in his testimony. There is a pressing need to limit its effects – uncertainty on exactly what these effects will be is no reason for inaction. Existing efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions are not strong enough to prevent the worst climate change impacts; we need a federal policy and a flexible approach. “America’s climate choices are about the decisions we as a nation need to make in the face of risks that are growing with every new ton of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere… it is imperative to act now to limit and adapt to climate change,” he concluded.

Dan Weiss was Chameides’s only ally on Panel 1: “The Mass v. EPA endangerment finding doesn’t permit waiting around for more research,” he emphasized.  “We must begin to regulate large emitters.  EPA has focused on a small number of very large industrial sources with its tailoring rules.”

He undercut industry complaints about the Obama Administration’s supposed war on coal.  “As of December 1, 2011, EPA and the state permitting authorities have issued 18 permits with carbon pollution limits.  There were about 50 other permit applications pending – an average of one per state.”  Furthermore, “coal companies continue to make large profits. In 2011, the two largest companies, Peabody and Arch Coal made profits of $958 million and $143 million, respectively.”  Weiss said EPA’s regulations will limit carbon emissions by 40-60% and have no net impact on employment.  “The urgency to reduce carbon and other global warming pollution grows with every extreme weather event or new scientific finding about impacts from climate change,” he stated.

In Panel 2, Doniger made a valiant effort to make his voice heard among the industry representatives beside him.  “Congress wrote the Clean Air Act to protect Americans,” he argued. EPA in its attempts at regulation is following the law by trying to protect Americans from the staggering health impacts of these gases. Furthermore, he argued, industry claims that customers will pay more for electricity if carbon standards are imposed on power plants is fiction.  “The proposed standard recognizes a market already turned away from coal due to cheap natural gas. EPA’s standard will impose no additional cost  on regulators or industry; it will impose no difficulty in meeting American energy needs.”  Besides debunking industry myths, he pointed to a few encouraging statistics:  “2 million Americans [commented on EPA’s draft rulemaking to] support CO2 standards for new plants,” he said. “60% of Americans support CO2 regulation.”

The call for action, however, ended there, and GOP used the rest of the hearing to reiterate the standard industry cries that the sky will fall as a result of new regulations.  Their arguments centered on economic impacts; they claimed the regulations would prevent new coal plants from being built; kill jobs by creating regulatory uncertainty, and increase the cost of electricity.  In this way industry and Republican commentary was fairly standard; however two comments stand out and deserve further analysis.

First, GOP members championed the argument that the economic impacts of these regulations would, to use Congressman Upton’s (R- Michigan) phrasing, “reverberate around the economy” and pose the most threat to hardworking American families.  Robert MacKie from Panel 1 claimed that the regulations would “force American families to pay more for their baked goods.”  Similarly, Gerry Sweeny from Panel 1 expressed concern that these regulations would stymie his company’s ability to create jobs. “These regulations will impact us in two ways,” he stated. “Higher cost of electricity and higher operating costs, all of which mean less jobs…the US economy is already an un-level regulatory playing field.” He continued, “Our facilities in India and China are not subject to these regulations.”

In the same vein Congressman Griffith (R- Virginia) commented, “these increases in energy costs will be the largest burden on the poor and unemployed.”  When told that the EPA has programs to help pay electricity bills he responded, “everyone knows, and my constituents tell me, that the money runs out long before the winter is over.”

I would point out that environmental regulations are a very small portion of the economic factors that make it advantageous to move businesses to developing countries.  Imposing new regulations in the US is unlikely to cost businesses enough to significantly change the balance; it was more efficient (in terms of profits) for Mr. Sweeney to move some of his operations overseas before the regulations were put in place, and it remains so afterwards. If Mr. Sweeney truly cared about American job loss, he could be keeping his operations within US borders and advocating for the Bring Jobs Home Act (which would provide a 20% tax credit for costs associated with moving businesses back to the US) rather than fighting environmental regulation meant to protect Americans’ health and safety.

Second, Griffith’s comments operate under the assumption that EPA regulation of greenhouse gases will increase energy prices, but the evidence suggests this is not the case. Weiss and Doniger underscored that economic analyses of these rules predict no impacts on employment or on existing coal plants.  “The new standards are in line with industry investment patterns,” Weiss argued.  “It is not expected to have noticeable costs, and it is not expected to increase electricity prices.”  Furthermore, EPA’s programs to help the poor pay for electricity are underfunded precisely because of the small-government ideology that politicians like Griffith champion.  These policies have dramatically decreased tax revenue and rolled back EPA programs.

These members of Congress and business witnesses claim to advocate for the interests of working class people, but in their arguments they demonstrate their loyalty to the 1% rather than the public interest.  And while this hearing contained some good discourse from members and witnesses advocating for environmental protection and the interest of society, industry advocates and the GOP sought to drown these voices in a storm of hypocrisy.

Earlier posts:

New EPA greenhouse gas rule may effectively end new coal power plants

Sen. Kerry condemns climate disinformation campaign, challenges Washington’s “conspiracy of silence”

Rally at US Capitol to end fossil fuel subsidies

Senate hearing on “Impacts of Rising Sea Levels on Domestic Infrastructures”

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