Republicans Voice Climate-Change Doubts in Advance of EPA Regs

In a House hearing Wednesday, Republicans called the proposed new limits on coal emissions an unnecessary presidential power grab.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, right, and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testify before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. The energy panel meeting Wednesday comes just days before a deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency to release a revised proposal setting the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide from newly built power plants. 
National Journal
Coral Davenport
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Coral Davenport
Sept. 18, 2013, 11:16 a.m.

As Pres­id­ent Obama’s con­tro­ver­sial cli­mate-change plan revs in­to full gear this week, Re­pub­lic­ans are seek­ing to paint it as a vast ex­ec­ut­ive power grab that will cost tax­pay­ers bil­lions of dol­lars — all to ad­dress a prob­lem many in the GOP say doesn’t ex­ist.

With the En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency sched­uled Fri­day to re­lease the first in a series of reg­u­la­tions rein­ing in car­bon pol­lu­tion from coal-fired power plants, House Re­pub­lic­ans are already on the at­tack. Wed­nes­day, Rep. Ed Whit­field of Ken­tucky, a coal-state Re­pub­lic­an and un­abashed cli­mate-sci­ence skep­tic, chaired a House En­ergy and Power Sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing called, he said, for the ex­press pur­pose of ex­amin­ing “the scope of fed­er­al cli­mate-change ac­tions that have been tolling bil­lions of dol­lars a year in spend­ing and count­less man-hours of work since the mid-1990s, reach­ing over $22 bil­lion this year alone.” As soon as the agency puts out its draft rule, Whit­field plans to in­tro­duce a bill to block the reg­u­la­tion.

To­geth­er, the hear­ing and rule set the stage for a com­ing battle over cli­mate change in the 2014 midterm elec­tions. While Whit­field’s bill stands no chance of pas­sage in the Demo­crat­ic­ally con­trolled Sen­ate, Re­pub­lic­an strategists hope that it will put House Demo­crats in a tough po­s­i­tion: Demo­crats from coal-, rust-, and farm-belt states who vote against rolling back the rule will see that vote haunt them in cam­paign ads, said Jordan Dav­is, policy dir­ect­or for the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee. At the same time, Or­gan­iz­ing for Ac­tion, the ad­vocacy group that grew out of Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2012 cam­paign, is run­ning on­line ads and hold­ing demon­stra­tions tar­get­ing Re­pub­lic­an “cli­mate den­iers.”

Obama, who in his first term failed to push cli­mate-change le­gis­la­tion through Con­gress, has in his second term dir­ec­ted every Cab­in­et agency to present plans to act on cli­mate change with­in their ex­ist­ing ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity. Re­pub­lic­ans are now call­ing at­ten­tion to that ef­fort as a way to claim the pres­id­ent is ab­us­ing his ex­ec­ut­ive power. Whit­field in­vited rep­res­ent­at­ives of 13 agen­cies to testi­fy at Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing, in­clud­ing the de­part­ments of De­fense, State, In­teri­or, Health, Ag­ri­cul­ture, and Trans­port­a­tion — and slammed the pres­id­ent for ul­ti­mately send­ing only EPA chief Gina Mc­Carthy and En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Ern­est Mon­iz to the hear­ing. “El­ev­en agen­cies re­ques­ted to testi­fy — twice, I might add — did not provide a wit­ness or sub­mit in­form­a­tion about agency activ­ity to the sub­com­mit­tee. That does not send a pos­it­ive mes­sage for in­creased pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of what this ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing on an eco­nom­ic­ally con­sequen­tial mat­ter,” Whit­field said.

Mc­Carthy and Mon­iz con­fron­ted the at­tacks head-on, re­mind­ing law­makers that the sci­ence of cli­mate change is clearly es­tab­lished, that their agen­cies have leg­al au­thor­ity to tackle it, and that cli­mate change is also wreak­ing hav­oc on the U.S. eco­nomy.

“The evid­ence is over­whelm­ing, the sci­ence is clear, and the threat from cli­mate change is real and ur­gent. This is my judg­ment, and it is the al­most uni­ver­sal judg­ment of the sci­entif­ic com­munity,” said Mon­iz, who was pre­vi­ously head of the phys­ics de­part­ment at the Mas­sachu­setts In­sti­tute of Tech­no­logy. “The threat of a warm­ing plan­et to our com­munit­ies, our in­fra­struc­ture, and our way of life is also clear. Rising sea levels and in­creas­ingly severe droughts, heat waves, wild­fires, and ma­jor storms are already cost­ing our eco­nomy bil­lions of dol­lars a year, and these im­pacts are only go­ing to grow more severe. Com­mon sense de­mands that we take ac­tion. This is the driv­ing force be­hind the pres­id­ent’s cli­mate-ac­tion plan.”

Mc­Carthy, who was just con­firmed to the EPA post in Ju­ly, as­ser­ted that un­der the law — spe­cific­ally, the 1970 Clean Air Act — her agency has the leg­al au­thor­ity to reg­u­late car­bon pol­lu­tion.

Re­pub­lic­ans, par­tic­u­larly Whit­field and oth­ers from coal states, con­tin­ued to push back at es­tab­lished cli­mate sci­ence. Rep. Dav­id McKin­ley of West Vir­gin­ia cited re­ports that the rate of cli­mate change has slowed in re­cent years, and he called the cli­mate rules “an ab­use of the pres­id­ent’s ex­ec­ut­ive au­thor­ity.” Mon­iz re­tor­ted that des­pite the re­cently re­cor­ded slow­down in at­mo­spher­ic glob­al warm­ing, the last 10 years are still the hot­test dec­ade in re­cor­ded his­tory. “Changes in the rate of in­crease are ex­pec­ted,” he said. “This pat­tern of ef­fects was pre­dicted dec­ades ago. This is not be­ing made up”¦. The last sev­er­al years have seen a slow­down of warm­ing.”¦ It does not ob­vi­ate the over­whelm­ing con­clu­sion that glob­al warm­ing is go­ing on.”

A group of pro­test­ers from Green­peace seemed to con­cur. Sit­ting quietly in the audi­ence, the group, dressed dis­creetly in suits and ties, donned tin­foil tri-corner hats whenev­er a Re­pub­lic­an ques­tioned or denied the sci­ence of cli­mate change.

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