By Ben Geman and Pete Kasperowicz - 09/23/11 05:38 PM EDT
The House on Friday approved legislation that would set up an interagency committee charged with assessing the impact of Environmental Protection Agency rules on U.S. economic competitiveness, and also delay two EPA rules until several years that analysis is complete.
Democrats railed against the bill throughout debate on Thursday and Friday, saying it represents the latest attempt by Republicans to advance an anti-environment agenda. But Republicans said the bill would not block any rule indefinitely, and that some economic assessment of EPA rules is needed in light of the increasing frequency of these rules under the Obama administration.
During Thursday debate on the bill, Democrats said delaying pending EPA regulations on mercury and air pollution would lead directly to adverse and measurable health effects and deaths.
“Each year these rules will prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths, tens of thousands of heart attacks and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks,” House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said on the House floor. “[They] will also prevent almost 2 million lost work days.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) went further, saying the bill to delay EPA rules “will kill 25,000 Americans every year” by increasing the incidence of lung cancer and other diseases.
The bill creates a Commerce Department-led interagency panel to review a suite of EPA rules on air pollution and other issues. The new Committee for the Cumulative Analysis of Regulations that Impact Energy and Manufacturing in the United States would study the rules’ effect on U.S. economic competitiveness, energy prices, employment and other areas.
It would also mandate multi-year delays of two rules: a recently finalized rule to cut interstate power plant emissions that worsen ozone and particulate pollution, and an upcoming rule to cut mercury and other air toxics from power plants.
It would also prevent a rewritten cross-state rule from being finalized for roughly four years at a minimum, and provide another three years for implementation. And it would prevent rewritten power plant air-toxics rules from coming into force for more than six years at a minimum, and alter the way EPA must craft the air-toxics standards in a way that Democrats allege would badly weaken them.
Members also accepted GOP amendments that add gasoline and Portland cement regulations to the scope of the bill, but rejected several substantive Democratic amendments.
During the floor debate, Whitfield said delaying the power plant regulations is needed as the country faces a persistently sour economy, arguing that “uncertainty about the plethora of EPA regulations coming down the road” is hindering recovery.
Whitfield, who hails from a coal-producing state, accused EPA of “trying to drive the coal industry out of business.”
But defenders of EPA’s rules allege the measure would gut vital public health protections, and reject claims that regulations are a brake on economic growth.
“For more than 40 years, since the Nixon administration, [EPA] has carried out its mission and established a proven track record that a healthy environment and economic growth are not mutually exclusive,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in testimony submitted to a House panel this week.
The bill is unlikely to advance in the Senate and faces a veto threat if it were to land on President Obama’s desk.
But Republicans, heading into 2012, are nonetheless using the measure to draw a political contrast with the White House, alleging that Obama’s regulatory agenda is costing jobs. GOP leaders plan to bring several bills to the floor in coming weeks and months to delay and soften other EPA regulations, such as air-toxics standards for industrial boilers and cement plants.
EPA critics already scored a major victory early this month when the president overruled the agency and shelved upcoming ozone standards, which will now be reconsidered in 2013.
Obama’s decision was a bitter defeat for environmental groups. But the White House is pledging to defend other regulations, such as the power plant air-toxics standards.