Week 34: House Votes to Slash EPA Budget by Half a Billion—and Now for the Bad News…

Congressional Republicans are still doing their damnedest to ignore climate science.

September 15, 2017

EPA headquarters building: Rob Crandall/Alamy

Welcome to our weekly Trump v. Earth column, in which onEarth reviews the environment-related shenanigans of President Trump and his allies.

Good News and Bad News

The House of Representatives took two votes relating to environmental protection on Wednesday. Republican Ralph Norman of South Carolina proposed a nearly $1.9 billion reduction in the EPA’s budget, roughly in line with the 31 percent cut that Donald Trump has sought in his budget. Fortunately, that bill failed overwhelmingly. A whopping 75 Republicans and all but one Democrat voted against it.

The bad news is that the House bill still cuts the EPA budget by more than $530 million. In addition, representatives voted on Wednesday to eliminate funding to enforce a rule limiting methane pollution from oil and gas facilities—a response to the recent court decision that overturned the EPA’s attempt to eliminate the rule outright—and to prohibit the EPA from considering the social cost of carbon in its cost-benefit analyses.

The move to eliminate the social cost of carbon from EPA calculations shows us how extreme congressional Republicans have grown in their opposition to any and all climate change measures. The practice of placing a dollar value on the damage done or averted by set amounts of carbon dioxide emissions was first established in 2006 by the George W. Bush administration. Admittedly, the move came in response to a court order, but the administration controlled both houses of Congress at the time. Bush could have gotten away with pretending carbon emissions were cost-free, but he knew better. In 2005, our oilman president (once a climate change denier himself) proclaimed that “the surface of the earth is warmer, and . . . an increase in greenhouse gases caused by humans is contributing to the problem.”

Wednesday’s vote confirms that some House Republicans feel more comfortable with their heads in the sand when it comes to acknowledging climate science—a dangerous place to be when the waters start rising.

Watering Down the Clean Power Plan

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a rule to replace the Clean Power Plan, according to recent reports. There is absolutely no chance it will represent a serious attempt to regulate carbon emissions from the utility sector.

How do I know that? Because Pruitt doesn’t even want the rule in the first place. He reportedly told business leaders that his preference was to rescind President Obama’s signature climate control regulation without any replacement. Two factors appear to have forced Pruitt’s hand.

First, the law requires the government to take measures to address climate change. When the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia gave the EPA more time to consider how to deal with the Clean Power Plan back in August, two of the judges explicitly reminded Pruitt of his agency’s “affirmative statutory obligation to regulate greenhouse gases.” The judges were basically telling Pruitt they wouldn’t allow him to walk away from climate change action altogether.

Second, fossil fuel industry executives—Pruitt’s primary constituency—have told Pruitt they want him to repeal and replace the Clean Power Plan, not simply repeal it. They’re smart enough to realize that merely revoking the rule will lead to interminable litigation that the agency probably can’t win. During that protracted court battle, the companies won’t know how to plan for the future. (Unfortunately, Donald Trump is quite accustomed to lawsuits. The president and his administration have been sued more than 130 times already, compared to just 26 for the Obama administration and 7 for George W. Bush over the same period.)

The advice has put Pruitt in an interesting position, stuck between his corporate patrons who know that climate change must be dealt with in some fashion and the grassroots climate change deniers back in Oklahoma (where Pruitt is rumored to be preparing to run for Senate), who want our EPA administrator to pretend there’s no such thing as global warming.

Dutiful corporate servant that he is, Pruitt has apparently bent to the will of the executives for now. The question is how he’ll persuade a court that the likely farcical rule he will attempt to promulgate represents a serious attempt to regulate carbon emissions. I can only imagine how that will go.

Stay up-to-date on Trump’s environmental antics by visiting NRDC’s Trump Watch or following it on Facebook or Twitter.


onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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