McCain: ‘All This Began When Our Secretary of State Raised the Expectations About the Israeli-Palestinian Peace’

Coral Davenport
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Coral Davenport
July 17, 2014, 4:34 p.m.

At first blush, Lisa Jack­son seems an un­likely tar­get for vit­ri­ol­ic polit­ic­al at­tacks.

Over the past year, the White House has made a point of put­ting the head of the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency front and cen­ter in the pub­lic de­bate over en­ergy, in part be­cause Jack­son seems to de­flect polit­ic­al fire so well. A re­spec­ted chem­ic­al en­gin­eer with a knack for ex­plain­ing com­plex sci­ence in lay­man’s terms, and a middle-aged moth­er who of­ten talks (and some­times tweets) about her two teen­age boys, Jack­son has a warm, ac­cess­ible per­sona that has en­deared her to law­makers of both parties dur­ing her fre­quent ap­pear­ances on Cap­it­ol Hill. She has even won kind words from Ok­lahoma Re­pub­lic­an James In­hofe, the Sen­ate’s loudest cli­mate-change skep­tic, who says that he likes Jack­son per­son­ally even though he dis­agrees with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on glob­al warm­ing and that he re­spects her work on oth­er en­vir­on­ment­al fronts.

But in the com­ing months, Jack­son will lead EPA dur­ing an un­pre­ced­en­ted ex­pan­sion of en­vir­on­ment­al and eco­nom­ic reg­u­la­tion, when the agency will be rolling out a host of con­trols aimed at com­bat­ing cli­mate change, smog, acid rain, wa­ter pol­lu­tion, and tox­ic chem­ic­al emis­sions. Far and away, the most con­tro­ver­sial of these rules will deal with cli­mate change: Start­ing in Janu­ary, EPA will for the first time have the power to clamp down on the car­bon emis­sions that cause cli­mate change and are ubi­quit­ous in the eco­nomy, from vehicu­lar tailpipes to power plants to fact­ory smokestacks.

And that has put the agency and its af­fable chief at the heart of a brew­ing polit­ic­al storm. On one side: tea party act­iv­ists and the fossil fuels in­dustry at­tack­ing what they la­bel an Or­wellian takeover by the en­vir­on­ment­al agency. On the oth­er: green groups who see Jack­son and EPA as the last line of de­fense in their fight to save the plan­et from cli­mate change. Caught in the middle are coal-state and Rust Belt Demo­crats, who are deeply un­easy about the pro­spects of an EPA with new com­mand-and-con­trol power over their dis­tricts’ factor­ies and power plants. As the fight heats up against the back­drop of a strug­gling eco­nomy, people on both sides of the de­bate say that the battle could be­come as in­cen­di­ary as the one over abor­tion rights.

“The huge chal­lenge EPA faces is, they will be caught in a cross­fire between en­vir­on­ment­al­ists turn­ing to them as the sa­viors of cli­mate ac­tion, and groups on the right who want to dis­tort it in­to their nar­rat­ive about gov­ern­ment and power,” says Joshua Freed, dir­ect­or of the clean-en­ergy pro­gram at Third Way, a mod­er­ate Demo­crat­ic think tank.

Re­pub­lic­ans agree and say that their at­tacks on EPA will come from every flank: leg­al, polit­ic­al, and le­gis­lat­ive. “If the EPA op­pon­ents are suc­cess­ful in com­mu­nic­at­ing the idea that Lisa Jack­son is stop­ping con­struc­tion with the new reg­u­la­tions, she will come un­der a de­luge of at­tack,” says Jeff Holmstead, an as­sist­ant EPA ad­min­is­trat­or dur­ing the George W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion who lob­bies on be­half of the en­ergy in­dustry for Bracewell & Gi­uliani.

And if Re­pub­lic­ans win con­trol of the House in Novem­ber, that cham­ber will lead the way, Holmstead says. “In a GOP House, she will be­come the fo­cus of a lot of over­sight hear­ings and in­vest­ig­a­tions. They can’t bring in the pres­id­ent, but they will bring in Jack­son for show tri­als. She will be a tar­get of the GOP and a hero to her base for stand­ing up to tea party mem­bers.” Lead­ing tea party groups are pre­par­ing their at­tacks on Jack­son and EPA, set to roll out in con­cert with the new cli­mate-change rules. The groups have already joined with in­dustry in fil­ing dozens of law­suits against the rules.

Here’s what those at­tacks will sound like, pre­dicted Phil Ker­pen, vice pres­id­ent of policy at Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity, the tea party act­iv­ist group foun­ded by oil bil­lion­aire Dav­id Koch: EPA of­fi­cials “be­lieve they can reg­u­late everything that moves — and a lot of things that don’t move. This is the first step to­ward shut­ting down all con­struc­tion activ­ity in the U.S. It’s reg­u­lat­ory and bur­eau­crat­ic over­reach the likes of which we’ve nev­er seen in the his­tory of the United States. The sheer scale of what this would en­tail would be a massive ex­pan­sion; it would give the EPA a far great­er scope than every oth­er agency.”

Coal and oil groups are lin­ing up with—and help­ing to fund—the tea party in the anti-EPA fight. “There is go­ing to be an ag­gress­ive in­ter­ven­tion of EPA’s reach in­to the eco­nomy,” says Luke Pop­ovich, a spokes­man for the Na­tion­al Min­ing As­so­ci­ation. “Reg­u­lat­ing, as they even­tu­ally in­tend to, many sources of green­house gases will put them in the po­s­i­tion of be­ing like a second eco­nom­ic min­istry.” Of Jack­son, Pop­ovich says, “She’s been an ag­gress­ive ad­min­is­trat­or — a lot more than someone who’s an ex­ec­ut­ive place­hold­er. She’s done the ad­min­is­tra­tion no fa­vors with labor uni­ons and busi­ness. I think that the policies are so con­spicu­ously aimed at in­dus­tries like ours that it’s promp­ted some in our in­dustry to say the EPA is de­clar­ing war on coal.”

Jack­son coun­ters that those ac­cus­a­tions are merely a re­frain of in­dustry com­plaints ahead of every new en­vir­on­ment­al reg­u­la­tion is­sued over the past 40 years. At a Septem­ber 14 event com­mem­or­at­ing the 40th an­niversary of the Clean Air Act, Jack­son took on the as­saults against her agency’s soon-to-be-ex­pan­ded power: “This broken re­cord con­tin­ues des­pite the fact that his­tory has proven the doom­say­ers wrong again and again,” she said.

“True to form, lob­by­ists have re­cycled their pre­dic­tions of job loss and eco­nom­ic cata­strophe with re­gard to each and every one of these ac­tions,” Jack­son said, not­ing that util­it­ies and coal plants also pre­dicted that con­trols on ozone and acid-rain emis­sions would cause their in­dus­tries to col­lapse. “There have been claims of EPA’s bur­eau­crat­ic power grabs — des­pite the fact that our ac­tions are guided by ex­tens­ive sci­ence…. There have been claims about job-killing reg­u­la­tions — des­pite the fact that cost-ef­fect­ive strategies to re­duce air pol­lu­tion should spark clean-en­ergy in­nov­a­tion and help cre­ate green jobs.” Ma­jor en­vir­on­ment­al groups, such as Al Gore’s Al­li­ance for Cli­mate Pro­tec­tion, are plan­ning me­dia and lob­by­ing cam­paigns to de­fend that mes­sage.

All this is com­plic­at­ing things polit­ic­ally for many mod­er­ate Demo­crats, who don’t rel­ish de­fend­ing the agency’s new power — or ali­en­at­ing the party’s en­vir­on­ment­al base. Part of the prob­lem is that no one ever wanted this to hap­pen. Since tak­ing of­fice, Pres­id­ent Obama has pushed for Con­gress to take the lead in en­act­ing cli­mate-change le­gis­la­tion, hop­ing that law­makers would pass an eco­nomy-wide cap-and-trade bill that would cut car­bon pol­lu­tion but also cre­ate enough nu­anced ex­cep­tions and carve-outs for re­gions and in­dus­tries to make it polit­ic­ally pal­at­able. Last year, the White House took a cal­cu­lated gamble to prod Con­gress to act: Jack­son an­nounced that EPA has de­term­ined that car­bon di­ox­ide is a dan­ger­ous pol­lut­ant, trig­ger­ing a leg­al re­quire­ment un­der the Clean Air Act that the agency would have to reg­u­late it without ac­tion from Con­gress.

To be sure, a 2007 Su­preme Court de­cision ob­liged the agency to make a rul­ing on car­bon emis­sions. But Jack­son and Obama made clear after last year’s an­nounce­ment that any en­act­ment of the oner­ous EPA rules was meant as a back­stop — a worst-case scen­ario should Con­gress fail to act. In the end, the worst-case scen­ario will be­come real­ity, and it’s hard to find Demo­crats in Con­gress who will de­fend it. In fact, it’s a coal-state Demo­crat — Sen. Jay Rock­e­feller of West Vir­gin­ia — who is lead­ing one of the first le­gis­lat­ive at­tacks on the EPA’s power, in­tro­du­cing a bill to delay for two years the agency’s abil­ity to reg­u­late car­bon emis­sions.

At a Septem­ber 15 pro-coal rally on Cap­it­ol Hill, Rock­e­feller told miners that Jack­son “doesn’t un­der­stand the sens­it­iv­it­ies eco­nom­ic­ally of what un­em­ploy­ment means. Her job is re­l­at­ively simple: Clean everything up; keep it clean; don’t do any­thing to dis­turb per­fec­tion. Well, you can’t do coal and do that at the same time. God didn’t make coal to be an easy thing to work with.”

Rock­e­feller’s bill has the back­ing of many mod­er­ate Demo­crats, in­clud­ing Sen. Ben Nel­son of Neb­raska, who char­ac­ter­ized EPA’s move to reg­u­late car­bon a power grab by the ex­ec­ut­ive branch. “It wouldn’t sur­prise me, with the ar­rog­ance of the EPA, that [Rock­e­feller’s bill] is gain­ing mo­mentum,” Nel­son said.

Al­though both sides agree that the agency’s broad­er reach will sig­ni­fy a power­ful new role for EPA, ex­perts say that for now, it’s hard to know which side is right about just how much the new rules will af­fect the eco­nomy. Un­der the broad­est in­ter­pret­a­tion of the Clean Air Act, the EPA would reg­u­late every source of car­bon emis­sions—which are pro­duced by nearly every hu­man activ­ity. That in­ter­pret­a­tion would mean an ex­treme scen­ario of EPA con­trol over houses, schools, churches, farms, com­mer­cial build­ings — the night­mare land­scape laid out by EPA’s tea party op­pon­ents. To avoid such an out­come, Jack­son is­sued a “tail­or­ing” rule, lim­it­ing her agency’s con­trol over car­bon emis­sions to large, in­dus­tri­al sources — coal-fired power plants would be sub­ject to the new rules, but not a coal-burn­ing com­mer­cial build­ing.

Ex­perts say that the rule — craf­ted to thread the needle in con­trolling a new kind of pol­lut­ant — is leg­ally vul­ner­able, and sev­er­al groups have filed court chal­lenges. “The amount of con­trol over the eco­nomy de­pends on the tail­or­ing rule. If they keep the tail­or­ing rule and then tell big pol­luters, ‘You have to do XYZ’ to lim­it emis­sions, it will be a sens­ible way to reg­u­late,” said Holmstead, the former Bush EPA of­fi­cial. “If the tail­or­ing rule is struck down, the res­ult will be so out­land­ish — the EPA would have to con­trol churches, schools, com­mer­cial build­ings. And no one, not even EPA, can tell you how it’s go­ing to play out.”

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