| September 26, 2011
On September 15 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would delay the release of the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for greenhouse gases for power plants and oil refineries. Nineteen environmental leaders issued a letter directly to President Obama urging the administration to set a firm timeline to finalize greenhouse gas emissions standards for electric utilities. Signers, including leaders from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club, insisted that the administration “announce and stick to a remedial schedule requiring proposal of these standards without further delay and completion of them as soon as possible in 2012.” Spokesperson for the National Wildlife Federation, Tony Iallonardo, explained that the letter’s signatories want “an explicit response from the president – not just from the EPA, but from the very top of the administration – that they’re going to commit to a schedule and hold to it.” To see full letter and signers, click here.
USCAN also directed its response to the delay in a letter to President Obama. Sent last Tuesday, with the signed support of 42 organizations including ActionAid USA, Interfaith Power and Light, Health Care Without Harm, World Wildlife Fund and many state and regional groups, the letter called on the President to ensure that the EPA swiftly commits to a schedule for proposing meaningful standards for carbon pollution from power plants. To see the USCAN letter and full list of signers, click here. As explained in Huffington Post Green last week, the controversy over the new standards continues to be the issue of “cost,” as industry leaders stand firmly on the belief that new rules will be economically detrimental. Studies, however, like the one published in February by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst continue to discredit this assumption, asserting that the EPA’s new pollution rule proposals for electric power companies will provide long-term economic benefits across the country, potentially creating 1.46 million jobs by 2015. A National Journal article released last week focused on Washington’s war over the EPA and highlighted the fact that “companies that spend money to install screens and scrubbers will actually be job creators.” A typical power-plant retrofit can employ, at the peak of the work, up to 1,000 engineers, construction workers, and other laborers.” Further evidence against the claim that regulations are economically harmful came on Wednesday, when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in a statement to Congressional Republicans, said that U.S. power plants are capable of adhering to new environmental rules without raising electricity costs or inhibiting job creation. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ public health expert, Elizabeth Martin Perera, expressed the growing frustration felt by the environmental community as a result of the recent anti-EPA measures. “We’ve just had such an onslaught of attacks in the House…The ozone decision started a very dangerous trend. We need to see Obama stand strong on this and to give the EPA the backing that it needs.”
Several Clean Air Act safeguards meant to ensure the quality of the air we breath were pushed back into the Congressional arena this week, and though a broad constituency of concerned groups continue fighting to defend them, the protections still face a barrage of attacks in the House. On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee (HECC) passed H.R. 2250 by a vote of 36-14. If signed into law, the bill would rewrite sections of the Clean Air Act in order to allow industrial boilers to incinerate tires, plastics, chemically-treated wood, and other industrial wastes in their on-site plants with no requirements to control, monitor, or report the toxic pollution results. Additionally, the measure would remove current standards for the nation’s largest industrial boilers and indefinitely delay their replacement, allowing for the burning of dangerous wastes in facilities not designed or equipped to do so safely. By a vote of 33-12, the HECC also passed H.R. 2681, which would similarly contribute to harmful pollutants released into our air by eliminating current control requirements for cement plants and encourage the companies to burn the same dangerous wastes as industrial boilers with no control or monitoring. According to a press release by Earthjustice, the elimination of these standards would result in between 3,400 and 9,000 annual premature deaths due to respiratory disease alone. Earthjustice attorney James Pew expressed deep concern over the Committee’s passing of the bills, stating that if H.R. 2250 and H.R. 2681 “are enacted into law, their cost will be borne by Americans across the country, but they will be felt most strongly in the communities that are already overburdened by toxic pollution…communities where childhood cancer and respiratory disease are already far too common.”
The first bill in Majority Leader Cantor’s list of attacks on public health safeguards, the TRAIN Act (HR 2401), which would block both the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, was passed on Friday by a House vote of 249-169. When first proposed by Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.), the TRAIN Act would have required a redundant economic study of the costs of the pollution rules facing the power sector yet would not look at the benefits of increased health protections. However, in the weeks since it was initially introduced, House Republicans have made additional proposals to have the new committee study, and essentially delay new toxic emissions limits for power plants, as well as block the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule entirely. On Tuesday of last week, the House Rules Committee said it would allow floor debate on Rep. Ed Whitfield’s (R-KY) amendment, which would add minimum delays for the rules beyond what the TRAIN Act already requires. Prior to the vote, the NRDC estimated that delaying these standards for merely one year would result in up to 25,300 deaths while the bill’s longer minimum periods of delay, 15 and 19 months, would result in up to 33,450 premature deaths.
The White House, in response to the proposed amendments, signaled its intentions to veto the legislation early last week and on Wednesday issued a formal “statement of administration policy,” emphasizing its pledge to stand its ground on EPA regulations under attack by Conservatives and industry groups. While the statement affirmed the Administration’s strong support for “careful analysis of the economic effects of regulation,” it asserted that “the approach taken in H.R. 2401 would slow or undermine important public health protections.” Democrats described (subscription required) Friday’s vote as the most brazen attack on environmental safeguards in the history of the Clean Air Act. Despite TRAIN’s passing in the House, the outlook is not entirely without optimism from those most vocally opposed to the measures. Senate Democrats vowed last week that the anti-EPA bill would be dead upon its arrival in the upper chamber. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman, explained that H.R. 2401 confirms House Republicans are “fighting for polluters and not for the people that they represent…And we’re here to call them out on it.”
Environmental, faith-based, development and conservation groups also came to the defense of the International Affairs Account, part of the 2012 fiscal year appropriations bill and which includes investments in international climate change finance. The bill, which underwent markup by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, determines the amount of funding to be invested in international action on global warming. 15 groups, including USCAN, NRDC, ActionAid US, and The Nature Conservancy, signed on to a letter urging the Senate to defend climate change finance investments which are “essential to promote national security and minimize instability, enhance economic opportunities for US businesses and workers, provide major cost savings by reducing disaster relief, protect critical forest areas and biodiversity, and preserve decades of US investments in global development.”
Anne-Elyse Wachur, USCAN Affiliate