EPA official: GOP bill would 'cripple' global climate efforts

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing discussed a bill (H.R. 4255) that would eliminate EPA’s ability to offer financial assistance for international greenhouse gas reduction activities.

Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the bill's sponsor, called it a “non-controversial bill.” He packaged the bill as a way to cut the federal deficit, though EPA has spent just $140 million on such foreign grants since 2001 – most of which were authorized under former President George W. Bush.

Republicans said deficit cutting has to start somewhere, acknowledging that the total tab for EPA's foreign grants program is minor. But Whitfield said the programs -- such as a $400,000 program to study urban air quality in Indonesia and $141,000 to test swine manure -- were frivolous when domestic infrastructure and economy need money.

"We can’t maintain our roads, bridges and domestic programs, but yet we have money to give China to study swine manure," Whitfield said. "Something doesn’t smell right in this situation."

Craig Hooks, EPA assistant administrator in the Office of Administration and Resource Management, disagreed.

“The EPA believes that HR 4255 will cripple the agency’s ability through grants to address harmful air pollutants that affect both the global and domestic environment,” Hooks said in written testimony. “Air pollution from overseas sources represents a growing problem for public health globally and here in the United States.”

The bill in question at the Tuesday hearing underscored the divide between Democrats and Republicans on the nation’s role in international climate change agreements.

Democrats backed a global climate deal in their platform during the Democratic National Convention last week. President Obama has also championed his efforts to strike international climate agreements.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney stated in a recent questionnaire that U.S. efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would have little effect without coordinated international action.

However, Romney did not call for increased U.S. leadership in that department. Instead, he said the U.S. should end "unilateral" actions to limit greenhouse gases because they would be ineffective and hurt the economy.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said such stances present a “cynical Catch 22” in GOP policy on climate change.

“When EPA proposes to crack down on U.S. emissions of greenhouse gasses, Republicans on the Committee say that unilateral climate change harms U.S. competitiveness. They say they want an international solution,” Waxman said in written testimony.

“But when EPA makes grants to build global support for reducing emissions of methane or black carbon, which contribute to climate change, the same members attack EPA for spending U.S. funds abroad,” Waxman continued.

Updated at 1:58 p.m.