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

EPA in Congressional Crosshairs

Air Date: Week of

(Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases came under attack in Congress. The House voted to strip EPA of its authority to control emissions of CO2, but the Senate went the other way. Host Bruce Gellerman gets analysis from Politico reporter Darren Samuelsohn, who says the EPA might have survived this round, but the issue will soon be back on the Congressional calendar.


GELLERMAN: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I'm Bruce Gellerman. President Obama can put away his veto pen, at least for now. The White House had threatened to veto legislation that would have stripped the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

The measure passed overwhelmingly in the Republican-controlled House but similar bills were defeated in the Senate. Darren Samuelsohn is Senior Energy and Environment reporter with POLITICO. Hi Darren, welcome!

SAMUELSOHN: Thanks for having me back.

GELLERMAN: So I want you to listen to this from Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton. Here he’s warning that the EPA could end up regulating not just large industry but some small emitters of greenhouse gases - very small.

BARTON: As I stand here, Madame Speaker, and I am creating, as I breathe in and out, CO2. So under the dictates of today’s EPA, I am a mobile source polluter because I am breathing.

GELLERMAN: So Darren, clarify what Congressman Barton is suggesting here - that the EPA would be regulating…you know, as the old Police song went, ‘every breath you take.’ Is that what he’s saying?

SAMUELSOHN: (Laughs). That’s what he’s saying. It’s not necessarily, accurately, what EPA is planning to do. EPA has time and again said that their focus is on major, large, industrial sources of greenhouse gas pollutants, and so Joe Barton here is, you know, using one of the big scare tactics that you hear from Republican opponents of these regulations. And, you know, this is one of the regular ones that you often hear.

GELLERMAN: So what would the EPA be regulating?

SAMUELSOHN: Well, they’re…you know, they’ve already regulated for cars, and that was a big agreement that the Obama administration and the auto industry reached - and a pretty big first-ever greenhouse gas agreement that folds in fuel economy here for the next five years - and then on top of that where we’re going next is stationary sources. We’re talking about your big power plants and your petroleum refineries and your other major, large, industrial stationary sources of pollutants. And, you know, those regulations are coming out here over the next year and a half.

GELLERMAN: It’s no surprise that the Republican-controlled House voted for a bill that would stop the EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act in regards to greenhouse gases.

SAMUELSOHN: It’s absolutely not a surprise. No, they have such a big majority that any bill that they want to move is going to pass, and that’s the case that happened this week. The Democrats really were powerless. They tried a couple of message amendments - tried to change the name of the bill a couple of times to make it called the “Head-in-the-Sand Bill” or the “Koch Brothers Bill,” but, you know, those were all just for show and ultimately went nowhere.

And yeah, with the House Republicans in control - and yeah, this was one of their top legislative priorities was to do this, to spank EPA, to make it clear that the Republicans don’t agree and also to put some Democrats in a tough spot with some tough votes.

(Photo: Wikipedia Creative Commons)

I mean, they were able probably to get, you know,15, 20 industry state Democrats to go along with them and then they got all these other Democrats to vote with EPA and you’re likely to see campaign commercials, especially if the economy isn’t picking up. You’re going to see commercials in campaigns around the country, you know, trying to connect Democrats who supported the EPA with raising gas prices and raising energy prices and, you know, the connections might be a little bit tough to really make, but that’s what happens in the land of campaign commercials.

GELLERMAN: Now on the other side of the Capitol, the Senate was voting on similar items - what happened there?

SAMUELSOHN: What happened was completely the opposite. There were a number of amendments, four in all, that were brought up on the floor, and one would have just completely wiped out EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases - and that one managed to get 50 votes. The vote was 50 to 50, with four Democrats joining 46 Republicans.

The only Republican who didn’t vote for that was Susan Collins from Maine. So, you know, it was a pretty clear vote - 50/50, almost a majority of the Senate, saying, you know, ‘EPA, stop!’ And so, you know, in one sense they were able to show that there is some angst amongst the Senate ranks.

And there were a number of other votes - there were three other votes pushed by Democrats to try and at least slow down EPA for two years. But what’s interesting is that in those three votes, they were able to smoke out 17 Democrats to take a stand against EPA.

GELLERMAN: So, legislatively, is this the end of the issue, or might it rear its head again in ongoing budget talks?

SAMUELSOHN: It will rear its head again, I guarantee it. I mean, it’s going on in the budget talks right now because here you have some language that the Republicans passed in the short term spending bill that would stop EPA from being able to fund their greenhouse gas work.

And even if that got stripped out of the budget negotiations, you can bet that the Republicans in the House will write the EPA spending bill for the next fiscal year and include it again. And so that debate continues.

GELLERMAN: Any indication that President Obama would make the EPA’s authority to control greenhouse gases a bargaining chip in future budget negotiations?

SAMUELSOHN: That’s certainly something the environmentalists will probably be losing a lot of sleep over. Yes, the Republicans are forcing the EPA into these budget negotiations and President Obama has been pretty clear that he will veto a stand-alone measure to stop EPA, but he hasn’t specifically said what he would do if the big budget got balled up with EPA in it.

And he said a couple of times dancing around that he doesn’t like some of these riders, but he hasn’t gotten into the specifics and that has environmentalists very nervous and fearful that they might ultimately be thrown under the bus because, you know, they, in some respects, don’t have tons of political power and don’t have a lot of political capital - they’re certainly part of Obama’s base, but, you know, if Obama wants to win re-elect in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, he’s got to be concerned about what industry feels and what industry thinks.

GELLERMAN: Darren Samuelsohn is senior energy and environment reporter with Politico. Darren, thanks.

SAMUELSOHN: Thank you.



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