Upton-Inhofe Bill Puts Polluters' Profits Ahead of Public Health

Legislation proposed last week by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) to block the Environment Protection Agency from enforcing Clean Air Act safeguards against carbon pollution would be a boon to big polluters and a serious setback for public health. 

As my colleague Franz Matzner said:  “Now we know the upshot of that behind-closed-doors meeting last month between big polluters and the staffs of Rep. Upton and Sen. Inhofe:   A proposal that puts polluters’ profits ahead of the American people’s health.’’ 

In mid-January the Upton and Inhofe staffs met with the polluters’ lobbyists from the American Petroleum Institute, the National Mining Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others, seeking their support for an “all-out push” to block EPA from doing its job to cut carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. 

“The feedback we got was ‘hey, great, go for it guys,’” one Republican aide told POLITICO. “And we pretty strongly told them we do need your help to get this done. And when we walked away from the meeting the feeling was we got that.”

The product of this high-minded collaboration is the “Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011.”  Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, scheduled a hearing on the bill Wednesday, February 9th, as the first step towards ramming it through the House. 

The bill is an all-out assault on public health.  EPA has documented how carbon dioxide and other climate-changing pollutants are bringing Americans death, illness, and injury in many ways:  by causing more killer heat waves, more intense smog, the spread of infectious diseases, and stronger storms, floods, and hurricanes.  Blocking EPA from reducing carbon pollution would mean more lives lost and more illness and injury.

Here’s what the Upton-Inhofe bill would do:

The bill would give the biggest polluters a free pass for unlimited carbon pollution by simply declaring that carbon dioxide is not an air pollutant and repealing EPA’s science based endangerment determination

  • The bill exempts carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants from the Clean Air Act’s definition of “air pollutant,” overturning the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA.   [Section 2, adding CAA Section 330(a), (b)(1)]
  • The Supreme Court enforced EPA’s 40-year-old duty under the Clean Air Act to act when science shows that pollution endangers our health or welfare.   But the bill repeals EPA’s endangerment determination, simply disregarding the findings of the National Academy of Sciences and countless other scientific experts.  [Section 2, adding CAA Section 330(b)(4)(A)]

The bill would repeal every action EPA has already taken and block every action EPA is developing to limit carbon pollution from power plants, oil refineries, and other industries.  [Section 2, adding CAA Sec. 330(b)(4)]

  • The bill gives the biggest new facilities a free pass for unlimited carbon pollution.  When companies want to build the very largest new facilities – plants that will run for decades and emit millions of tons of carbon dioxide – they now must take available and affordable steps to minimize that pollution.  This pre-construction review has applied to other pollutants for decades; now it includes carbon pollution too.  But the bill would turn back the clock and bar any limits on their carbon pollution.  [Section 2, adding CAA Section 330(b)(3)] 
  • The bill blocks EPA plans to issue carbon pollution performance standards for power plants and oil refineries, the number 1 and 2 carbon polluters in the nation.  Power plants release 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year (40 percent of the nation’s total) and oil refineries emit hundreds of millions of tons.  In December, EPA announced a timetable for setting these safeguards over the next two years.  The bill would stop that in its tracks and bar EPA from setting carbon performance standards for any industries.   [Section 2, adding CAA Section 330(b)(1)(A), (b)(4)(K)]

The bill tears up the Clean Car Peace Treaty reached by the Obama administration, the car companies, the states, and others and that provides for setting clean car and truck standards out to 2025 and beyond. 

  • The clean car agreement calls for EPA, the Department of Transportation, and California to work together with industry and environmental stakeholders to set standards that make the greatest feasible cuts in the carbon pollution and fuel consumption of new cars and trucks.   
  • The bill’s sponsors will trumpet that they’ve kept the first round of joint standards for cars (through 2016) and trucks (through 2018).  But after that the bill strips EPA, California, and other states of any future role in cleaning up vehicles’ carbon pollution.  EPA could not set future carbon standards and could not allow California to do so.  [Section 2, adding CAA Section 330(b)(1)(A), Section 3 adding CAA Section 209(b)(4)] 
  • This means more pollution and higher fuel bills for all Americans, since the Transportation Department’s CAFE standards can’t deliver the same results.  Because of EPA and California, the first round standards are delivering 47 percent more carbon reductions and 33 percent more fuel savings than CAFE standards alone, and saving consumers nearly $60 billion dollars more than CAFE standards alone.    

The Upton-Inhofe bill is unprecedented political interference with science and with enforcement of clean air safeguards, which have improved our air for the past four decades.  We have the clean energy technology to significantly reduce carbon pollution, just as we have with each other kind of life-threatening air pollution. 

The big polluters cannot be allowed to keep spewing unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air.  Politicians in Congress should not try to block EPA scientists from doing their job.  Responsible public officials need to stand up for clean air and the health of our families rather than joining with the big polluters.