EPA administrator faces down GOP critics

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act if it found that the emissions endangered public health and welfare. The Obama administration’s EPA made such a finding in 2009.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), and others, said EPA has no place regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

“[Carbon dioxide] is not mentioned in the Clean Air Act,” Barton said. Just because the Obama administration wants it to be, “That does not mean that it has to be,” he added.

Jackson warned against blocking the agency’s climate rules, arguing that such a move would prevent the EPA from continuing to protect public health.

“I respectfully ask the members of this committee to keep in mind that EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act saves millions of American children and adults from the debilitating and expensive illnesses that occur when smokestacks and tailpipes release unrestricted amounts of harmful pollution into the air we breathe,” Jackson said in her opening statement.

And she stressed that the agency’s decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions is based a finding issued by the EPA in 2009 that the emissions endanger health and public welfare. Overturning such a finding would go against science, she said. 

“Politicians overruling scientists and a scientific question, that would become part of this committee’s legacy,” Jackson said.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who introduced companion legislation to Upton’s bill in the Senate, also testified at the hearing. Inhofe, like House Republicans, slammed the EPA’s pending climate rules.

“The science on this issue is mixed, the economics is not mixed,” Inhofe said, arguing that climate regulations will send jobs overseas.

Democrats, for their part, focused on the science behind climate change, arguing that action is urgently needed to prevent the catastrophic impacts of the planet’s changing temperature.

“Members can have different ideas about how to reduce carbon pollution,” the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said. But Republicans must have an alternative. 

“This is another repeal, but no alternative to replace it,” he said.

Democrats also homed in on a letter released Tuesday by Waxman that revealed the EPA administrator under former President George W. Bush had supported issuing an “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health and welfare.

Pointing to the letter, Waxman said climate change should not be a partisan issue. 

“The science hasn’t changed in the last two years; in fact it has only gotten stronger,” he said in his opening statement. “Yet somehow belief in science has become another partisan battleground.”

The hearing was marked by deep divisions between lawmakers, and it underscored what has become a seemingly endless tug-of-war in Congress over the EPA’s pending climate rules.

The disagreement focuses on two central questions. The first has been answered by the majority of the world’s scientists in the affirmative, but remains an open question for many Republicans: Are human beings causing the world’s temperatures to increase? The second question is much more complicated: Should the EPA, based on a finding that greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health, regulate the emissions?

For the most part, Republicans and Democrats simply can’t agree on the answers to those questions, and the parade of lengthy speeches from lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing fell mostly on deaf ears.