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David Doniger’s Blog

Congressional Carbon Circus

David Doniger

Posted April 6, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Solving Global Warming

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There’s lots going on in the center ring of the Congressional Carbon Circus today.  Both the House and Senate are expected to vote this afternoon on bills to block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from doing its job under the Clean Air Act to safeguard Americans from the dangerous carbon pollution that drives global warming.  And Republicans keep trying to force EPA-blocking “riders” onto funding legislation that must pass this week to avoid shutting down the government. 

To their credit, the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats appear to be standing firm.  Yesterday the administration promised to veto the EPA-blocking bill that will hit the House floor today, and the President spoke out against the budget riders:  “What we can’t be doing is using last year’s budget process to have arguments about abortion; to have arguments about the Environmental Protection Agency.”

While the Republicans appeal to their base, polls show that the President and the Democrats are on surer political ground.  In both national and district-by-district polls, Americans strongly back EPA authority to protect their health from carbon pollution, by margins of well over 60 percent.  (Post is updated to fix link to "district-by-district" polling; additional polling information can be found at the end of my testimony.)

As this high drama plays out in the center ring, I’ll be testifying in one of the circus’s smaller side rings, at a hearing on “Assessing the Impact of EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations on Small Business.”  This is another in a series of when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife hearings on the costs (but never the benefits) of government regulations, before subcommittees of House Oversight and Investigations Committee chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). 

The script calls for the majority’s witnesses to expound on how EPA’s carbon safeguards are killing the job generators of our economy.  I will offer the token dissenting view.  Here are highlights of what I’ll say (my full statement is posted here and you can watch live here): 

Mr. Chairman, the other witnesses you have heard are pursuing a false story-line that demonizes the Environmental Protection Agency and the modest steps it is taking to begin reducing dangerous carbon pollution.  Contrary to that false story-line, EPA is doing just what Congress told the agency to do when it wrote the Clean Air Act.  Congress gave EPA the duty to keep abreast of developing science, and to act when science shows that pollution endangers our health and welfare.  

The EPA endangerment finding is backed by solid scientific authority.  America’s own most authoritative scientific body, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), concluded in 2010: 

“Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small. Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts. This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities.”

H.R. 910, the extreme bill that the House of Representatives is on the verge of adopting, would take the unprecedented step of repealing an expert agency’s formal scientific finding of a threat to health and welfare.  Congress has never done this before, and you should not start now.  Politicians do not prosper long when they put themselves in the position of denying modern science.  Repealing EPA’s scientific determination that carbon pollution causes dangerous climate change would be like repealing the Surgeon General’s finding that tobacco smoke causes cancer.  H.R. 910 will harm the health and the pocketbook of millions of Americans.  It is both bad policy and deeply unpopular. 

The Clean Air Act’s critics get the economics of environmental safeguards completely backwards. Rather than hurting economic growth, four decades of data show that the Clean Air Act helps our economy grow while it protects the health of millions of Americans.  Over the past 40 years, the American economy has tripled in size while we’ve cut some forms of pollution by more than 60 percent.  That’s because the Clean Air Act does not demand the impossible – it requires only pollution controls that are achievable and affordable.  That’s just as true when setting carbon pollution standards as it has been for other kinds of pollution. 

EPA is taking great care to protect American families and American small businesses that are the focus of this hearing.  In fact, EPA has set carbon pollution standards for new cars, SUVs, and over-the-road trucks that will save billions of dollars for American families and small businesses by cutting their gasoline and diesel fuel bills.  And EPA has gone to great lengths to exempt the millions of American small businesses from any obligations as it begins to address carbon pollution from only the very largest industrial sources, such power plants and oil refineries. 

Thanks to EPA’s landmark clean car standards, small businesses will save big-time at the gas pump.  Under the Clean Car Agreement brokered by the Obama administration, EPA, acting together with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and California, has set combined carbon pollution and fuel economy standards that will lower gasoline bills for American small businesses and families by billions of dollars.  The first round of standards, for 2012-2016 model cars, SUVs, vans, and pick-ups, will save small business owners as much as $3,000 over the life the vehicle.  EPA’s clean car standards for 2017-2025 will save small businesses even more – as much as another $7,400 per car.  I should note that these calculations were based on gasoline costs starting at $2.61/gallon!  At today’s and tomorrow’s higher gas prices, the savings will be even greater.

EPA is also working with DOT and California on the first-ever carbon pollution and fuel economy standards for over-the-road trucks.  Those standards, proposed last year, will save the owner of a heavy-duty truck up to $74,000 over the truck’s useful life.  The money saved on diesel fuel will stay in the pockets of truck and fleet owners and will enable them to pass on savings to every American in lower costs for food and other goods.

Lobbyists for some of America’s biggest polluters are falsely claiming that the Clean Air Act’s carbon requirements will fall on millions of apartment buildings, office buildings, farms, and even churches.  The truth is otherwise:  EPA has exempted all small sources of carbon pollution from permit requirements for new and expanded sources.  Instead, directly in line with congressional intent, EPA has focused those permit requirements on only the largest new and expanded sources of carbon pollution, such as power plants, oil refineries, and other big polluters.

When a company wants to build or expand a big plant that will operate for decades, it is only common sense to take reasonable steps to reduce how much dangerous pollution it will put into the air.  So for decades, the Clean Air Act has required that someone – either the state’s environmental agency or the EPA as a last resort – review what the new or expanded plant can reasonably do to reduce its pollution, and put achievable and affordable emission limits into a construction permit.  But this review of available and affordable pollution control measures applies only to the largest sources of carbon pollution, like new power plants, oil refinery expansions, or other large projects.  This is the same review that has been undertaken for decades for similar sources of other pollutants.

EPA has been sued by dozens of trade associations, companies, and right-leaning advocacy groups representing the country’s biggest polluters.  But when put to the test of proving their claims, they failed.  The courts have found no merit in their claims of harm.   This is no surprise, because the court challengers – like the lobbyists who come up to the Hill – are seeking not relief for the small fries, but special favors for the biggest polluters – power plants, oil refineries, and the like.  These pollution giants cannot complain to the courts about EPA’s exempting smaller sources.  Their attempt to hide behind the skirts of small businesses should fare no better here on the Hill.   

Congressmen, you deny the science at your peril.  Likewise, you buy into phony story-lines about burdens on small business at your peril.  As I mentioned, large majorities of the American people support the Clean Air Act and want EPA to do its job to control air pollution.  They specifically want EPA to do its job to safeguard us from carbon pollution.  I’ve appended this polling data to my testimony as food for thought, and I welcome your questions.

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Comments

Dr. James SingmasterApr 6 2011 02:23 AM

If only someone would start talking about our organic waste messes as a resource by pyrolyzing them to stop them from biodegrading to reemit carbon dioxide and to stop them from having escapes of germs,toxics and drugs that pollute our food and drinking water.
Doesn't anyone at NRDC realize what was and will continue to be the source of several drugs showing up in drinking water causing EPA to set some limits last year? Does anyone think that by setting limits on a few drugs, EPA will stop limits from being exceeded or keep other hazards out of drinking water? Escapes will keep occurring because the present mishandling of much of our organic wastes being done at great costs for never ending monitoring is not getting any attention by any environmental group( NRDC's Executive Director had a posting on this July, 08 although directed mainly to plastics getting to the oceans). Biowastes are an already harvested biofuel crop that will continue to cause worsening pollution problems if we keep letting them go to WASTE.
I have made many comments here including one Apr.4 on A. Martinez posting about LA garbage to detail how to make biowastes into a resource using pyrolysis. Making biowastes that may poison us off the earth into a resource is the ultimate in sustainability. If NRDC would get the ball rolling on this resource that we will never run out of, I think the public will start calling on Congress and Obama for action.
Can NRDC step forward and call for action to make biowastes into a resource saving billions of dollars from being spent on maintaining dumps that still make have escapes of germs, toxics and drugs from biowastes.
Republicans ought to be totally on board if they realize the savings that can be generated. Sewage operations might even pay the public back some money as energy and fuel can be generated via the pyrolysis process.
Dr. J. Singmaster, Environmental Chemist, Ret.

G WApr 6 2011 03:40 AM

Well said, Mr. Doniger. At one point one might say, "keep on speaking truth to power," perhaps it should be revised to "keep on speaking reason to suicidal insanity."

DonnaApr 8 2011 12:28 PM

Health impacts of air pollution include cardiovascular disease and events, increased rates of cancer and asthma, and, naturally, increased medical bills and lost days of work. Do the Republicans going backwards toward black sky days care less about their loved ones and future generations? If they don't support a strict Clean Air Act, it's a very sad day. I hope they choose what's best for mankind and uphold the EPA and Clean Air Act!

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