To sell their message, they re-created a colorful diagram based on the calendar Gina McCarthy had described to them. It shows the rollout of regulations color-coded by pollutant and rule—black for ozone, red for sulfur dioxide, pink for the cross-state air rule, blue for sooty particulate matter, and orange for carbon dioxide—with 35 marks for points in the schedule between 2008 and 2016. The crowded, rainbow-colored timeline creates a sense that EPA is unleashing a nonstop barrage of regulatory obligations.
People in the coal lobby began calling the slide “the train wreck.” The name stuck, and the slide became a hit. By the middle of 2010, it was being shown all over town. The train wreck was e-mailed to staffers, journalists, and lobbyists. It also went to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; to tea party groups like Americans for Prosperity, which has close links to Koch Industries; and to super PACs gearing up for the 2010 elections.
In a rush of media buys, Web campaigns, and town-hall events, those groups began to spread the word to voters angry about too much government: EPA’s new rules could soon drive up their electricity prices and close down their power plants. The super PACs also began calling attention to forthcoming EPA rules outside the power sector—capping emissions from industrial boilers and cement plants, for instance. Industry groups dominated the messaging; the chamber alone spent $33 million on ads and campaigns before the midterm election. Suddenly, average voters knew all about obscure pending EPA rules. “At a Labor Day parade last year, there were signs about boiler MACT,” recalls House freshman Morgan Griffith, R-Va., using the acronym for a rule that deals with industrial boilers.
As soon as they got to Washington in January 2011, the tea party-backed freshmen took the message to the GOP leadership. “In the caucus meetings, prior to raising their hands and taking the oath, the freshmen made it clear they were here to do three things,” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy strategist with close ties to House leadership. “We’re here to blow up ‘Obamacare,’ we’re here to do something about the budget, and we’re here to make sure EPA doesn’t kill jobs. The energy right before the election was about the budget and the EPA. And they took all that energy with them.”
The House leaders listened. House Government Oversight Chairman Darryl Issa sent letters to executives asking them to list the government regulations that would most harm job growth. EPA regulations topped most lists. Planning their agenda, Speaker John Boehner and Cantor decided that bills defunding and reversing EPA’s regulatory authority would hit the floor early and often. Even if few of them had a chance to become law, thanks to a Democratic-controlled Senate, they would be political winners.
House Republicans worked closely with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In a January speech, chamber Chairman Tom Donohue said that EPA regulations were hampering growth and put their repeal at the top of his annual wish list. “Literally from two days before [the freshmen] took their oath, we’ve been very active on this,” said Bill Kovacs, who directs the chamber’s environmental and regulatory-affairs program. “You name it, I can’t think of any piece of legislation that would roll back all of this that we haven’t been involved with.”
In February, a conservative free-market group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose “private enterprise board” includes major coal and oil companies, turned McCarthy’s infamous slide into a snappy booklet called “EPA’s Regulatory Train Wreck: Strategies for State Legislators.” It said that the agency threatened local economies, and it gave a handy blueprint for state legislators who might want to introduce bills handcuffing the rules. In March, as the government nearly shut down over the must-pass continuing resolution, House Republicans introduced over a dozen amendments trying to slash EPA funding and gut its regulatory authority. Throughout the spring and summer, they used every legislative opportunity to attack EPA—not least when the agency’s annual funding bill was on the floor. Last month, Cantor circulated a week-by-week fall agenda of bills aimed at “job-killing” regulations. Seven of 10 targeted EPA. The first of those, which is expected to pass on Sept. 23, cited the “train wreck” in its name: It was the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act.
And while all the attacks keep coming, EPA keeps issuing more rules—including those to tackle the most controversial pollutant of all: the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Until this year, the federal government had never regulated carbon dioxide and other gases produced by burning coal and oil. But among the tasks waiting for Jackson when she arrived on the job was a 2007 Supreme Court decision, in Massachusetts v. EPA, which said that the agency was obligated by the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases if they qualified as pollutants that endanger human health. The Court had hugely expanded EPA’s authority.