The House on Friday passed the first in a planned series of Republican bills to effectively block the Environmental Protection Agency from reining in toxic pollution under the Clean Air Act.
The measure, which passed 233-180, largely along party lines, would delay the EPA from moving forward on a new rule scheduled to be rolled out in November requiring coal plants to slash 90 percent of their mercury emissions. That rule is required under the terms of the 1990 Clean Air Act, and has been delayed for more than 20 years.
The bill also would keep the EPA from moving forward with a rule known as the cross-state air rule, which would require coal plants to limit toxic emissions that cross state lines and contribute to health and environmental damage.
The “Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation”—which Republicans call the “TRAIN” act— has no chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate. Neither do a half a dozen other anti-EPA bills still to come to the House floor this fall. And even if they somehow did, they’d meet a presidential veto.
But enacting legislation isn’t the point. The high-profile floor debate over this and later anti-EPA bills gives Republicans a platform to rail against the Obama administration’s so-called “job-killing regulations,” and lets them hone a message likely to resonate throughout the 2012 presidential campaign.
More practically, some elements of the bills could resurface at the end of the year as Republicans seek to slip pieces of the legislation into a big must-pass spending bill.
Republicans and the coal industry complain that the rules will raise electricity prices, cause plant closures, and eliminate jobs. Democrats and the EPA say that the rules will save lives and protect public health by slashing emissions of toxins that contribute to birth defects, lung disease, premature death, and asthma in young children.
“Over 14 million Americans are unable to find work and millions more have stopped trying,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky.,who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power. “The breaking pace at which EPA is cranking out new regulations is creating obstacles to job creation in America and also to stimulating the economy.”
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the top Democrat on the House Energy panel, shot back: “If this legislation is enacted, more babies will be born with birth defects and learning disabilities.”
Said Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly: “Republicans took every single anti-environmental bill, amendment, and nighttime fantasy of the Koch brothers and wrapped it into this one bill,” referring to the owners of the oil giant Koch Industries, which has close ties to the tea party group Americans for Prosperity.
“The end game on this will come in December, when they try to put pieces of this into an omnibus [spending bill] or CR [short-term spending measure],” said Daniel Weiss, an energy and climate policy expert at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the Obama administration.
And those elements could make it through the Democrat-controlled Senate. Many incumbent Democratic senators from Midwestern states facing tough reelection campaigns are uneasy about the EPA rules, which could have a big impact on their coal-reliant states. The TRAIN act also includes provisions that would simply delay enactment of the new pollution rules until a new comprehensive study of their effects has been performed, a milder requirement that Senate Democrats facing voters in coal-heavy districts with high unemployment may want to take home.
“It’s true that some of the moderate Democrats have some discomfort in this area,” said James Wrathall, a former senior Democratic staffer on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who is now a lawyer specializing in environmental regulations with the firm Sullivan and Worcester. “There’s always concern that there is balance in these economic times, especially with these Midwestern states and moderate Democrats.”
This article appears in the September 23, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.