Upton's Upside Down Agenda

Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is making no secret of his plans for “an all-out push to block federal and state climate rules.”  Yesterday, Upton’s released his committee agenda for the new Congress, which includes detailed plans for blocking the Environmental Protection Agency’s long-overdue steps to curb the full range of life-threatening air pollutants – from soot and smog to mercury and carbon – that come from power plants and other big industrial sources.  Also yesterday, according to POLITICO, Upton’s staff met behind closed doors with lobbyists for America’s biggest polluters “seeking unwavering support” for their plans. 

The well-heeled crowd at yesterday’s meeting (held jointly with staff for Sen. James Inhofe) reportedly included lobbyists for the American Petroleum Institute, the National Mining Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, and others.

“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.”


In a delicate turn of phrase, the committee agenda decries the “EPA regulatory chokehold” that supposedly “will severely impede the domestic manufacturing and industrial growth necessary for this nation to create jobs and emerge strongly from a devastating recession.”

This is the same hyperventilating about economic Armageddon we’ve seen over and over during the 40-year life of the Clean Air Act.  Yet over that period we’ve cut many pollutants by 60 percent or more and saved hundreds of thousands of lives, while the economy has tripled in size.

Congressmen and lobbyists can make sweeping claims in press releases and other broadsides.  It’s when they have to prove those gloom-and-doom claims that things sort of crumble.  The same industries that are now pledging Upton and Inhofe their “unwavering” support took their best shot at proving their claims in court – and came up empty.  They failed to convince the Courts of Appeals in Washington Orleans that EPA’s carbon curbs would hurt their member companies or grind the economic recovery to a halt.  As the D.C. Circuit pointedly put it:  “with regard to each of the challenged rules, petitioners have not shown that the harms they allege are certain, rather than speculative, or that the alleged harms will directly result from the actions which the movants seek to enjoin.”  Their stalwart ally Texas struck out twice more in the Courts of Appeals in New Orleans and Washington.

For too many of the House’s new leaders, however, facts don’t seem to matter.  For example, Energy and Commerce Committee member and former chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) bloviates that the court rulings will “crush our economy” and promises legislative repeal.  This is entirely false, as the history of the Clean Air Act demonstrates. 

Congressman Upton’s committee agenda is a little coy about what specific legislation he plans, promising oversight hearings and other process.  But it rather looks like they have their minds made up.  As the Red Queen said:  "Sentence first- verdict afterwards."

Last month, Upton offered another coy proposal in an op-ed co-signed with the head of the Americans for Prosperity – the astroturf group behind the Tea Party funded by the billionaire Koch brothers and other big polluters – calling for legislation to automatically block EPA’s safeguards while the courts further consider the polluters’ legal arguments.  (He seemed unaware that this would really hurt the auto industry, a big time Michigan constituent, by interfering with the Obama administration’s money-saving clean air and fuel economy standards that the automakers support and need for their economic recovery.) 

Casting all coyness aside, Congressman John Shimkus (R-IL), one of Upton’s subcommittee chairman, told E&E News (subscription required) that he and his colleagues favor permanently stripping EPA of all Clean Air Act authority to curb greenhouse gases.  “’That’s where we’re all at,’ he said.”

The POLITICO story says “Upton is looking to introduce a bill as soon as next week blocking EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, with hearings in his panel next month and a bill brought to the House floor by late February or in March.”

The Clean Air Act is a remarkably successful public health law which – up until now – has always enjoyed broad bipartisan support.  It has saved hundreds of thousands of lives while our economy has continued to grow.  The further safeguards for soot, smog, mercury, and carbon pollution that EPA is planning to issue will save tens of thousands more lives each year and help us move towards cleaner energy and a stronger economy. 

When the polluters and their allies have attacked the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency in the past, the public has responded with even stronger support for the clean air safeguards that protect them from life-threatening pollution.  Does Congressman Upton really want to replay this movie one more time?