Op-ed: House vote on EPA bill ‘an insult to all Americans’

A bill passed by a House subcommittee would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Library of Congress photo.

Republican measure would limit EPA’s ability to protect air quality and curb greenhouse gases

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — When it comes to climate change, who are you going to believe — Republican politicians who rely heavily on campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, or a group of scientists focused on ethics and science-based policy?

Since the scientists don’t really stand to gain or lose, at least financially, from decisions made in Congress, it stands to reason that they might be slightly more credible, and their reaction to a House subcommittee approval of a bill that would block the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases speaks volumes.

In a prepared statement, the Union of Concerned Scientists said the party line vote is “an insult to all Americans,” referring to the measure that was introduced by Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and passed out of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee Thursday.

“The House subcommittee vote is a triumph of fiction over fact,” said Lexi Shultz, legislative director of the group’s climate and energy program. “This bill ignores the vast body of scientific evidence that carbon emissions are leading to climate change and harming public health.”

The legislation also would undermine efforts that would save American drivers thousands of dollars at the pump over the life of their vehicles through stronger fuel efficiency standards, according to group.

“The Upton-Whitfield bill would end a promising collaboration between the EPA and the Department of Transportation to develop new fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks between 2017 and 2025,” said Michelle Robinson, director of UCS’s clean vehicles program. “Representative Upton claims his bill would save Americans money at the pump, but the reality is that it would do the exact opposite. By blocking future fuel efficiency standards, the bill would eliminate savings at the pump of as much as $7,400 over a vehicle’s lifetime, increase pollution, and worsen America’s oil addiction.

“For the last 35 years, fuel efficiency standards have saved consumers billions of dollars, cleaned up our air, and reduced our oil consumption,” she added. “At a time of rising gas prices, the last thing consumers need is more pain at the pump,” Robinson said.

Taking a page out of Orwell’s “1984,” Reps. Upton and Whitfield titled their bill the “Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011,” when, in fact, it would not prevent an energy tax because no one has proposed one. Instead, the bill would prevent the EPA from reducing harmful carbon emissions, despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled the agency has the express authority to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act.

“The bill’s sponsors are ignoring the fact that Clean Air Act regulations have and will continue to save lives,” said Shultz. “They also have provided enormous financial benefits.” The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, for example, have prevented as many as 160,000 premature deaths last year alone, she pointed out, and while they cost $65 billion to implement, their overall financial benefit could reach $2 trillion by 2020, according to the EPA.

Reps. Upton and Whitfield justify their bill by citing grossly inflated industry-generated estimates of the cost of new carbon regulations. Historically industry has overstated the cost of regulation. Past Clean Air Act standards, such as those that addressed acid rain, have cost less than a third of even the EPA’s own estimates. Not only that, but the Republican math ignores the indirect costs of treatment for pollution-related health care.

Meanwhile, warnings from the scientific community are mounting. In October 2009, for example, 18 U.S. scientific societies sent a letter to Congress that stated: “If we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, emissions of greenhouse gases must be dramatically reduced.” In 2009, the U.S. Global Change Impacts Report concluded that if global warming emissions are not cut dramatically, “threats to human health will increase.” And earlier this month, more than 2,500 scientists signed a letter urging Congress to allow the EPA to move forward with carbon regulations.

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