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Latest Dirty Air Deeds: January 20, 2011

John Walke

Posted January 20, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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U.S. Senator Launches Attack on Clean Air Act Enforcement: In an irresponsible, political attack on law enforcement, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) wrote a scathing letter to EPA complaining about a Clean Air Act enforcement lawsuit filed by the Justice Department against a Missouri coal-burning power plant alleged to have illegally increased sulfur dioxide pollution. The Senator’s letter did not identify any facts or evidence that the plant had not violated the Clean Air Act. Just as irresponsibly, Senator Blunt leveled the unsubstantiated accusation at EPA that “this recent lawsuit is another backdoor method used by the EPA to broadly penalize the use of coal in the United States.” This produced the remarkable outcome in the same letter whereby a sitting U.S. Senator did not possess the supporting facts but nonetheless knew that a federal civil defendant was innocent, while at the same time he did not possess the supporting facts but still knew that a federal law enforcement agency was guilty. Never mind that civil servant Justice Department attorneys filed the lawsuit. And never mind that the Bush administration filed and successfully prosecuted these same types of Clean Air Act enforcement cases for eight years.

The letter included inquisitional demands by the Senator about the enforcement case that read like they might as well have been written by the power company's defense attorneys. The letter even contains a stupefying sentence in which the Senator implies that he is criticizing EPA, i.e., interfering with their enforcement authorities, because he is "constitutionally and morally burdened with the responsibility of broadly examining policies to determine what is in the best interests of [his] constituents," presumably not meaning the Missouri residents breathing air pollution that the Justice Department and EPA believe to be illegal. 

Senator Blunt vowed threateningly “to closely examine the motives behind this legal action” and promised “the utmost scrutiny by the United States Congress.” The Senator’s letter is notable for its rarity, since members of Congress from either political party hardly ever criticize ongoing enforcement cases directly on behalf of defendants, for good reason. One has to wonder whether this form of political interference will become a trend, with a heightened partisan atmosphere in Washington that seeks increasingly to block EPA’s law enforcement authority and put corporate profits above public health.

North Dakota Legislators Introduce Bill to Nullify All EPA Standards and Deny Access to EPA Officials Within State Borders: This one is so wacky I’ll just let it speak for itself. North Dakota Republican state legislators Rep. Jim Kasper (R-District 46), Rep. Jeff Delzer (R-District 8), Rep. Craig Headland (R-District 29), Rep. Dave Weiler (R-District 30), and Sen. Tom Fischer (R-District 46) introduced the following bill aimed at the federal EPA and all federal public health and environmental laws:

Rules adopted by the environmental protection agency are null and void and of no force and effect in this state without the approval of the state agency with subject matter jurisdiction in the area governed by the rule. The environmental protection agency may not conduct visitations or inspections in this state without the prior approval and permission of the state agency with subject matter jurisdiction of the subject matter of the visitation or inspection.

It will be interesting to monitor whether this prompts a trend of new legislation seeking partial secession involving other laws of the United States, and whether discourteous “No Trespassing Signs” will be placed at state boundaries for other Americans too.  

Senator Plans Sweeping Attack on EPA and State Authority to Reduce Carbon Pollution: Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) announced plans to introduce “sweeping legislation later this month to block the Obama administration and states from imposing climate rules,” according to Politico’s Morning Energy. Bucking the more timid example of Republican legislators in North Dakota seeking to nullify just federal environmental laws in just one state, Senator Barrasso apparently aims more ambitiously to nullify all federal and state legal solutions to reducing carbon pollution and addressing its harmful consequences. Barrasso reportedly plans to abolish all EPA carbon pollution authorities and responsibilities under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

Politico reported that a spokeswoman for the Senator was quoted saying “[t]he Barrasso bill stops this backdoor attempt to enact Obama's cap-and-trade agenda through EPA and the rest of the federal bureaucracy." But EPA has no final, proposed, or planned measure to adopt a cap-and-trade approach to carbon pollution, and the Senator's office has identified no backing example; their office should be asked to substantiate their claim. Nor does the spokeswoman explain why it is necessary or even logical to eliminate state carbon reduction authorities in order to block an imaginary EPA “cap-and-trade agenda.”

Perhaps once the Senator’s office realizes they have it so completely wrong, they will abandon plans to introduce any bill blocking the ability by EPA and states to reduce carbon pollution. But as we clean air advocates like to say, “Don’t hold your breath.”

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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