Polluted Politics: Even the GASP Act's Republican Sponsors Know the Bill Is About Dirty Air

Rep. Ed Whitfield’s (R-KY) “Gasoline Regulations Act” [pdf]  (better known as the “GASP ACT”) is coming to the floor today as part of H.R. 4480, the so-called “Domestic Energy and Jobs Act

Rep. Whitfield and others have sought to portray the GASP Act as one that will lower gasoline prices [pdf], but here’s what Rep. Whitfield actually said in the committee markup of the bill: “And I will admit once again that we do not see that this legislation is going to reduce gasoline prices tomorrow.” (at 9:04).

He later attempted to qualify that admission by explaining that “we do believe that it can contribute and make us more aware of what these regulations, how they will impact gasoline prices in the future.”

So despite all the political boasting we have heard so far, and undoubtedly will hear in floor speeches, the sponsor of the bill has admitted that the GASP Act will have no immediate impact on gas prices.

So why would House Republicans go to all the trouble of introducing a bill that doesn’t serve the purpose it claims to serve?

Because they have another agenda, one that is much more politically distasteful – and, of course, distasteful to people that like to breathe clean air.

The heart of the GASP Act abolishes the 40-year-old requirement that EPA base clean air standards on health science and medicine alone in determining whether the air is safe to breathe. Section 6 of the bill would force EPA to define healthy air based in part on the “feasibility and cost” to polluting industries rather than what is healthy according to medical science.

And it seems that even some of the co-sponsors of the bill are unclear on the bill’s true purpose.

Let’s look at an exchange from the Energy and Commerce committee markup between Reps. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Gene Green (D-TX), and Joe Barton (R-TX), a co-sponsor. This exchange took place when Mr. Green offered an amendment that attempts to protect the Clean Air Act by removing the portion of the GASP Act that guts the Clean Air Act’s requirement to set air quality standards based on science, rather than costs to polluters (at 1:23:30):

Mr. Waxman: The whole premise of the Act since 1970 is that the EPA decides on a standard to protect public health. And then in implementing that standard we look at all the cost considerations, the economic impact. [ ] That is always been the way this whole law has worked. On the Floor, the House adopted an amendment that we never had a day of hearings on in our committee. It wasn't offered in the committee. It was offered on the Floor by our colleague, Mr. Latta. And that said, oh, no, the standards are not going to be based on protecting public health; the standards are going to be based on a balancing of public health and costs. That has not been the law for 40 years. [ ] So Mr. Green's amendment would say the ozone standard should be set as it is in existing law but the rest of the existing law would still apply in terms of economic considerations and this bill would apply. Is that correct?

Mr. Green: Yeah. What I am trying to do is to give some time frame for refineries to be able to do this and do the study and not go back and change--don't throw out the baby with the bath water as we say in Texas. We can deal with the study and the delay but we still want to have the same law, the basic law we have dealt with for 40 years. (emphasis added)

Mr. Barton: Well, if I could reclaim my time, if I understand Mr. Whitfield's bill, which I am now a cosponsor of, it simply says before we go further, let us do this study.

For the reasons outlined above and by Mr. Waxman, the GASP Act does not simply say “let us do this study.” The so-called study provisions are in section three.  

As explained above, section 6 of the bill would gut the Act's health-based air quality standard-setting process for smog pollution. In doing so, the bill would overturn a unanimous 2001 Supreme Court decision by Justice Antonin Scalia that upheld Americans' right to clean air. The Supreme Court ruled there that any consideration of costs to polluting industries would violate the Clean Air Act when EPA sets health standards for ozone or other air pollutants.

Mr. Barton went on to say to Mr. Green that “if your amendment is adopted, it guts the bill.”

In this instance, Rep. Barton was right on target – the malevolent heart of the GASP Act is the provision that requires EPA to consider costs in setting national air quality standards. 

Mr. Green’s amendment would gut this indefensible feature of the GASP Act because his amendment would protect this core feature of the Clean Air Act from House Republicans’ attacks and preserve Americans’ right to healthy, honestly determined clean air standards.

Both Mr. Barton and Mr. Whitfield, two co-sponsors of the GASP Act, have admitted that this bill will do nothing to lower the prices that Americans pay at the pump any time soon. What the GASP Act would do is eviscerate our right to breathe clean air.

So just as Mr. Whitfield admitted that this bill would do nothing to lower gas prices anytime soon, Mr. Barton and Mr. Whitfield too understand all too well that preserving the healthy heart of the Clean Air Act would require gutting, in Mr. Barton’s words, the malevolent heart of the GASP Act.