House panel approves bill curtailing EPA power on climate regs

A House panel approved legislation Wednesday imposing tough new restrictions on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to enact regulations seen as hurting the economy. 

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The GOP-backed Energy Consumer Relief Act cruised through the Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Energy and Power, despite opposition from Democrats, who derided the bill as an attack on the environment.

Under the legislation, the EPA would be required to submit a report to Congress detailing the estimated costs and job impacts of any proposed energy-related rules that would cost more than $1 billion to implement. 

Further, the bill would empower the Department of Energy to conduct its own review of those draft rules — and block them if the agency determines they would cause economic damage.

“We know EPA rules are unusually expensive,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), the subcommittee's chairman, said during consideration of the measure. “We are trying to focus on the effect on the economy and the loss of jobs.”

Critics of the bill say it is designed to kill important environmental protections, just as the EPA is considering major new limits on emissions from new and existing power plants, among other actions aimed at reducing the effects of climate change.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) described the bill as “yet another science-denying attack on the EPA.”

“At some point, we need to stop acting like members of the flat earth society and start listening to the scientists,” Waxman said, borrowing a line from President Obama’s speech last month announcing his global warming initiative.

Waxman and other Democrats criticized the bill for containing no mention of benefits generated by EPA regulations, or any requirement that they be factored in to agency analyses.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) offered an amendment that that would have required the Department of Energy to consider benefits of EPA rules — including estimated healthcare cost cuts linked to reduced pollution.

The amendment, which failed by a tally of 11-16, would have limited the powerful sway over EPA rules that the Energy Department would gain under the bill.

“I disagree with giving DOE a de facto veto,” Rush said.

Ultimately, the legislation was approved 17-10, sending it to the full committee.

The oil and gas industry, which has complained about the emissions regulations, as well as proposed measures to limit pollution from vehicles and improve air quality, lauded the bill’s passage.

“President Obama has promised transparency from his administration and the American people deserve to receive a complete and accurate accounting of the impact of EPA actions on the economic recovery and their pocketbooks,” the American Petroleum Institute said in a written statement.

Public interest groups meanwhile blasted the legislation, saying the Environmental Protection Agency is already hamstrung by strict requirements that it measure costs of rules whose benefits are often difficult to quantify.

“This Act would effectively kneecap the Agency's remaining ability to protect citizens against damaging pollutants,” said Rena Steinzor, a law professor who serves as president of the Center for Progressive Reform.

Steinzor said a rule that raised energy costs for American households by as little as $0.87 a year over 10 years would trigger the DOE’s veto authority, under the legislation.