EPA

Republicans eye heavy oversight in 2011

If Republicans take control of Congress next year, U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson may need to clear her schedule for frequent appearances on Capitol Hill.

A group of Republicans comprising the "House Rural Solutions Working Group" aired grievances with EPA at a forum in the Capitol yesterday that served as a sort-of dress rehearsal for ranking members hoping to take a gavel next year.

Fourteen GOP representatives and one senator -- several of whom are eyeing possible committee leadership spots next year -- presided at the forum with representatives from farm and business groups. The lawmakers said they want a GOP Congress to clamp down on EPA efforts to expand environmental regulations.

"Oversight is a primary responsibility of Congress -- we're going to have some oversight next year," Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), one of the co-chairmen of the rural group, told reporters after the forum.

Lucas, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, said he expects a packed schedule of oversight hearings if he and his GOP colleagues take committee gavels. Lawmakers have frequently used oversight hearings as an opportunity to bash agency policy when the party in power in Congress differs from the party controlling the White House.

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And with several committees having some say over EPA, Lucas said it could become a popular agency on the Hill.

"At least a half-dozen committees have a slice of the jurisdiction. When it comes to an agency like the EPA, I could see where once a week, we could each take our turn," Lucas said.

The House and Senate Agriculture committees are generally very bipartisan. In the last farm bill debate, Republicans and Democrats on the committees worked closely together, with members more divided along regional lines than party lines. But Lucas said to expect changes if he takes the chairmanship next year: namely, much more scrutiny of EPA and USDA.

"If holding the executive branch accountable, if making sure that everyone follows the law, if making sure bureaucracies don't create law but simply administer the law, if that is what this was a reflection of today, then you betcha, that's what I hope we have in the spring," Lucas said.

Yesterday's briefing was not an official congressional hearing but held the trappings of one: Lawmakers sat up at several tables in the front of a room with witnesses at another, lined up behind timing lights.

Representatives from forestry, farm, livestock and coal groups expressed concern about potential EPA regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, watersheds and pesticides. The groups said the regulations could raise the cost of doing business and make them subject to lawsuits from environmental groups.

"Federal EPA bureaucrats are on the verge of killing thousands of rural jobs and communities through an arcane maze of rules and regulations that can only make sense to a lawyer in Washington, D.C.," said Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Jackson was not present at the briefing, but lawmakers said she was invited.

EPA has become a whipping post for some lawmakers. The Senate Agriculture Committee criticized the agency's regulations at a hearing last week. And Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, promoted a new report at yesterday's briefing that found regulations under consideration at EPA could threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Jackson attended the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing last week and said she has worked hard to shield farmers from EPA rules. For instance, the new "tailoring" rule exempted farms from greenhouse gas regulations by raising the emissions threshold. Jackson said her agency imposed fewer rules on farms last year than it did during the last year of George W. Bush's administration (E&E Daily, Sept. 24).

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