EPA stands in the way of recovery

Not far from my district the Spring Hill plant sits idle. GM pulled out of Spring Hill, once the proud home to the Saturn line, in the wake of its bankruptcy last year. Reopening the plant, either for the production of cars or anything else, will be critical to jobs growth in Middle Tennessee.  At a listening session with constituents who live in the 7th district and used to commute to work in Spring Hill, the message was clear: to get the plant up and running again, Washington is going to have to do ... less.

Washington, or more specifically the Environmental Protection Agency, poses a significant challenge to any new enterprise that hopes to revitalize Spring Hill and Tennessee’s economy.  While Tennesseans are looking for a new owner to come in, take over the Spring Hill plant and get it producing again, the EPA has proposed a series of regulations that would require businesses to certify they have limited carbon emissions or pay steep fines.  These regulations are a result of their “endangerment finding” under the Clean Air Act that carbon dioxide and other green house gasses pose a threat to human life.


The new greenhouse gas rules will require anyone who buys the Spring Hill plant and performs any modifications on it — which they will likely have to do — to analyze all the greenhouse gas emissions from the plant and from all its potential new processes. Any new owner will have to report these emissions to the EPA.  All the while, Tennesseans remain jobless.

Most possible uses for the Spring Hill plant would cause the plant to exceed the 25,000 annual tons of carbon dioxide emissions the EPA proposes to allow, classifying it as a “major emitter.”  Major emitters must go through additional review and permitting by the EPA, a process that could take months or years.  These are years when an entrepreneur owns, maintains, and pays taxes on a non-productive facility — clearly a disincentive to anyone thinking of reopening a plant in the United States. 

To add to the cost, the EPA will require major emitters to purchase and install the “best available control technology” to reduce emissions to an acceptable level. Even when that equipment is installed, the new owner isn’t done with EPA-imposed costs.  Because the EPA found that the Clean Air Act applies to carbon dioxide, any new owners of the Spring Hill plant are open to being sued if the carbon capture technology fails or the plant ever exceeds the EPA emission ceiling. Such a specter of unanticipated cost would hang over the plant for its entire operational life.  While potential new owners calculate the possible cost, Tennesseans go jobless.

As Washington works to balance economic impact with the need to spur energy independence, the EPA lurks on the Hill with these disastrous carbon restrictions in its briefcase, threatening to detonate them on the economy in the event that the Senate doesn’t meet its minimum standard of economy-killing carbon limits.  Its actions are a clear executive overreach.

My bill, H.R. 391, would void the EPA’s endangerment finding and prohibit the agency from regulating carbon under the Clean Air Act. It would clear the way for new owners to move to Tennessee, repurpose the Spring Hill plant, and begin hiring.  Without it, the prospect of job-killing bureaucratic regulation will be a persistent specter, haunting the plans of those who can help this economy grow. 

This month the EPA announced a video contest to help Americans understand how their rulemaking process works. Setting aside the incredible waste associated with a $2,500 prize for a video contest about federal regulatory process, the need for such a contest is telling. As the EPA explained in announcing the contest, these “rules,” which carry the force of law, are what the EPA uses to fill in the gaps left by congressional authorization. 

In those gaps, I believe that the EPA has seriously overstepped its original mandate.  It has done so in pursuit ever more bureaucratic power and at the cost of our national economy.  On Earth Day, Congress should take a close look at the EPA, what it has achieved and at what cost.  I am taking a stand against its latest overreach with H.R. 391 and I encourage my colleagues to follow suit. 

Blackburn is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.