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Feb 092011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Clashing over climate change and clean energy bubbled anew in Washington today as Congressional conservatives who want to restrict or remove the EPA’s authority to control carbon air pollution presided over hearings on the issue.

EPA Director Lisa Jackson

Those who want to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, say that the EPA’s plans will drive up the cost of energy in America. They also argue that the agency does not have the authority to regulate emissions from coal plants, oil refineries and tailpipes, unless and until Congress directs and defines such regulation.

Defenders of the EPA counter that a core function of the agency under the Clean Air Act is to patrol air pollution, and that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA must take responsibility for setting standards for greenhouse gases.

Today, EPA Director Lisa Jackson made the case herself for the EPA to control the carbon pollution that scientists blame for causing rapid global climate change, when she testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Power at the first hearing on the proposed Energy Tax Prevention Act.

Jackson said the bill would hinder America technologically by removing plans already underway for cleaner-operating utility plants, the first set of businesses to be regulated for greenhouse gases. The bill also would slow progress toward cleaner, more fuel efficient transportation — keeping the U.S. tethered to oil, she said.

Drafted by climate skeptics in the House of Representatives, the Energy Tax Prevention Act would stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases for utilities, power plants or any other other businesses.

The Act’s author and head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Fred Upton, (R-Michigan) said at Wednesday’s hearings that carbon dioxide is “the unavoidable byproduct of using the coal, oil, and natural gas that provides this nation with 85 percent of its energy.”

“These fossil fuels are such an important part of our energy mix because they are often the most affordable choice,” Upton said.  “EPA regulators seek to take away that choice by making the use of these fuels prohibitively expensive.”

The U.S., Upton said, should follow China’s lead of not regulating fossil fuels to keep energy and manufacturing cheap.

Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky), also sounded a warning about putting penalties on  carbon pollution, saying that the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases amounts to a “war on coal.”

Ms. Jackson testified that the EPA’s regulation of air pollution saves Americans from respiratory illness, bronchitis, asthma and lost work time, and that scientists have compiled a “strong, credible body of evidence” showing that greenhouse gases threaten human health.

“Chairman Upton’s bill would, in its own words, repeal that scientific finding.  Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question– that would become part of this Committee’s legacy,” Jackson said.

Below are Ms. Jackson’s prepared remarks (Upton’s can be found here):

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify about Chairman Upton’s draft bill to eliminate portions of the Clean Air Act, the landmark law that all American children and adults rely on to protect them from harmful air pollution.

The bill appears to be part of a broader effort in this Congress to delay, weaken, or eliminate Clean Air Act protections of the American public. 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.

Last year alone, EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act saved more than 160,000 American lives; avoided more than 100,000 hospital visits; prevented millions of cases of respiratory illness, including bronchitis and asthma; enhanced American productivity by preventing millions of lost workdays; and kept American kids healthy and in school.

EPA’s implementation of the Act also has contributed to dynamic growth in the U.S. environmental technologies industry and its workforce.  In 2008, that industry generated nearly 300 billion dollars in revenues and 44 billion dollars in exports.

Yesterday, the University of Massachusetts and Ceres released an analysis finding that two of the updated Clean Air Act standards EPA is preparing to establish for mercury, soot, smog, and other harmful air pollutants from power plants will create nearly 1.5 million jobs over the next five years.

As you know, Mr. Chairman, the Supreme Court concluded in 2007 that the Clean Air Act’s definition of air pollutant includes greenhouse gas emissions.  The Court rejected the EPA Administrator’s refusal to determine whether that pollution endangers Americans’ health and welfare.

Based on the best peer-reviewed science, EPA found in 2009 that manmade greenhouse gas emissions do threaten the health and welfare of the American people.

EPA is not alone in reaching that conclusion.  The National Academy of Sciences has stated that there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that the climate is changing and that the changes are caused in large part by human activities.  Eighteen of America’s leading scientific societies have written that multiple lines of evidence show humans are changing the climate, that contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science, and that ongoing climate change will have broad impacts on society, including the global economy and the environment.

Chairman Upton’s bill would, in its own words, repeal that scientific finding.  Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question– that would become part of this Committee’s legacy.

Last April, EPA and the Department of Transportation completed harmonized standards under the Clean Air Act and the Energy Independence and Security Act to decrease the oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of Model Year 2012 through 2016 cars and light trucks sold in the U.S.

Chairman Upton’s bill would block President Obama’s plan to follow up with Clean Air Act standards for cars and light trucks of Model Years 2017 through 2025.  Removing the Clean Air Act from the equation would forfeit pollution reductions and oil savings on a massive scale, increasing America’s debilitating oil dependence.

EPA and many of its state partners have now begun implementing safeguards under the Clean Air Act to address carbon pollution from the largest facilities when they are built or expanded.  A collection of eleven electric power companies called EPA’s action a reasonable approach focusing on improving the energy efficiency of new power plants and large industrial facilities.

And EPA has announced a schedule to establish uniform Clean Air Act performance standards for limiting carbon pollution at America’s power plants and oil refineries.  Those standards will be developed with extensive stakeholder input, including from industry.  They will reflect careful consideration of costs and will incorporate compliance flexibility.

Chairman Upton’s bill would block that reasonable approach.  The Small Business Majority and the Main Street Alliance have pointed out that such blocking action would have negative implications for many businesses, large and small, that have enacted new practices to reduce their carbon footprint as part of their business models.  They also write that it would hamper the growth of the clean energy sector of the U.S. economy, a sector that a majority of small business owners view as essential to their ability to compete.

Chairman Upton’s bill would have additional negative impacts that its drafters might not have intended.  For example, it would prohibit EPA from taking further actions to implement the Renewable Fuels Program, which promotes the domestic production of advanced bio-fuels.

I hope this information has been helpful to the Committee, and I look forward to your questions.

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