The Right, the Far-Right, and the Out-of-Sight-Right Attack EPA's Carbon Pollution Standards

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As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the landmark Clean Air Act this year, a new poll shows that nearly three out of four Americans support protecting the EPA’s authority to take steps that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities and other major industrial polluters.  More than four out of five Americans think scientists and other experts at the EPA are the most qualified to make decisions about how best to safeguard the American public when dealing with greenhouse gas emissions and other major pollutants, compared to fewer than one in 10 who said Congress should make such decisions.  And more than seven in 10 agreed that:  “If Congress blocks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities and other major industrial polluters, it would send the wrong message to polluters, namely, that Congress isn't willing to hold polluters accountable.”

Yet a rogues’ gallery of science-denying coal and oil companies, industry lobbyists and trade associations, right-wing advocacy groups, Tea Party funders, and ultra-conservative elected officials continues its assault on the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act in Congress and the courts.  They range from the right, to the far-right, to the out-of-sight-right -- see here for a partial list.

                                                                (courtesty of Tom Toles/Washington Post)

In a blizzard of court filings yesterday, an unholy alliance of big polluters and climate-denying ideologues and officials asked the federal court of appeals in Washington to “stay” – to immediately stop – every major action EPA has taken over the last two years to curb carbon pollution – the science-based “endangerment” finding, the historic standards for new cars, and the first limits on carbon pollution from the biggest new power plants and factories

The stay motions make some wild claims.  The Coalition for Responsible Regulation – a shadowy collection of “extractive industries, agriculture, power generation, chemical production, and manufacturing” whose “purpose is to prevent the misuse of executive powers premised on anthropogenic ‘climate change’” -- tells the court that “warming may have been caused by unknown natural factors not yet understood.”   (Donald Rumsfeld once warned us about the unknown unknowns.)

According to the State of Texas, “EPA’s GHG regulatory scheme is the most draconian of its kind in any advanced economy in the world.”  Really?  The vehicle standards are going to save the average new car buyer $3000.  And all that’s required of the biggest new factories is to do what’s available and affordable to reduce emissions – something they’ve been doing for other pollutants for decades.

As lawsuits, these cases are not much of a threat.  Mainly, they serve as fashion accessories to dress up the credibility of the political argument of lobbyists pressing Congress to take away EPA’s authority to tackle global warming.

In a letter this week, for example, a big polluters coalition led by the National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce set a new world’s record for lobbyists’ hyperbole, suggesting that EPA plans to make six million facilities cut their carbon emissions.  The actual number that will need to use the best available and affordable carbon controls each year?  Only about 1,600 of the biggest new or expanded power plants and factories.  What’s a nearly 4,000-fold exaggeration in a good cause? 

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson nailed it earlier this week in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the Clean Air Act.  First, she summed up the huge health gains and economic benefits this landmark law has brought the American people.

It is literally a lifesaver. We estimate that it has prevented tens of thousands of premature deaths each and every year.  Along with lives saved, the Clean Air Act has reduced asthma attacks, heart disease and numerous other health conditions for Americans. …

And as air pollution has dropped over the last 40 years, our national GDP has risen by 207 percent.  The total benefits of the Clean Air Act amount to more than 40 times the costs of regulation.  For every one dollar we as a nation have spent, we get more than 40 dollars of benefits in return. Say what you want about EPA's business sense, but we certainly know how to get a return on our investment.  

Calling the Clean Air Act “one of the most cost-effective things the American people have done for themselves in the last half-century,” Jackson said: 

The irony is that one of the most economically successful programs in American history is also one of the most economically maligned. The Clean Air Act has faced incessant claims that it will spell economic doom for the American people.

Today’s forecasts of economic doom are nearly identical – almost word for word – to the doomsday predictions of the last 40 years. This “broken-record” continues despite the fact that history has proven the doomsayers wrong again and again.

Administrator Jackson highlighted some of the greatest exaggerations of the past 40 years:  that requiring catalytic converters would cause the auto industry to “collapse;” that the Clean Air Act would cause “a quiet death for businesses across the country;” that the phase-out of CFCs meant “severe economic and social disruption” and could cause “shutdowns of refrigeration equipment in supermarkets … office buildings, our hotels, and hospitals.”

Jackson then sketched out what EPA is doing to finally get started under the law already on the books to cut the pollution driving global warming:  the science-based endangerment finding, the money-saving clean car standards, and steps to build the biggest new facilities with available and affordable measures to burn fuel efficiently and minimize their carbon footprint.

The Clean Air Act, Jackson noted, "does not compel regulations for all industry categories, and we want to ensure that we move forward without burdening small businesses, non-profits and other entities that don’t account for significant amounts of pollution in our skies."  Some lobbyists, however, are "so eager to see their wild projections of economic collapse come true" that they argue even the smallest facilities should be covered and should have to "'suffer all the consequences, warts and all.'”  Actually, that’s exactly the position Texas took yesterday in its stay motion filed with the court.

Jackson set out the principles EPA will follow in future actions:  First, “promot[ing] “commonsense strategies that encourage investment in energy efficiency and updated technologies.” She promised a “multi-pollutant, sector-based approach that provides certainty and clarity for businesses and investors and creates opportunities to reduce emissions at lower cost” and “to set clear, achievable standards while maintaining maximum flexibility on how to get there.”  She pledged an open process taking input from all stakeholders.  She closed with a strong rebuff to those who are attacking the Clean Air Act: 

But we are not going to fall victim to another round of trumped up doomsday predictions. We have four decades of evidence that the choice between our economy and our environment is a false choice.

As Administrator Jackson moves to protect our health and well-being from the dangers of climate change, EPA has the support and the trust of the American people.