Republicans push back against claims they would 'gut' key air law

In her opening statement at Wednesday’s hearing, Jackson said the Clean Air Act has protected millions of Americans from illness. “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,” she said.

But Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) stressed at the hearing that Upton's legislation will not apply to “criteria pollutants,” including carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and lead.

Barton asked Jackson if she could confirm that the legislation does not target those other pollutants, but the EPA administrator said she is concerned the legislation could affect other pollutants.

“I am concerned that there needs to be an analysis to make sure there are not unintended consequences,” Jackson said.

Barton said that the legislation could not possibly “gut” the Clean Air Act, as many Democrats have argued, because the act does not cover greenhouse gas emissions. “[Carbon dioxide] is not mentioned in the Clean Air Act,” Barton said.

Though the Clean Air Act does not cover greenhouse gas emissions, a 2007 Supreme Court case said the EPA could regulate such emissions under the act if it finds they endanger public health and welfare. The Obama EPA made such a finding in 2009.

Talking to reporters after the hearing, Jackson again stressed that Upton’s legislation would “weaken” the Clean Air Act.

“This is a serious effort to weaken the Clean Air Act, the statute that provides protection to the health of American families, particularly children with asthma and people who have respiratory illnesses or lung disease,” she said. “That’s what this is. It’s weakening, it’s putting a wedge into enforcement of the Clean Air Act.”