House Republicans ready to unravel U.S. EPA's work on greenhouse gas emissions are beginning to find a newly invigorated opposition on the other side of the Capitol.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) yesterday put the new House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman on notice by name, vowing to "use every tool available to me" to prevent a derailing of carbon emissions regulations by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.). Boxer's gloves-off performance drew consternation from House and Senate Republicans alike, but her fellow upper-chamber Democrats echoed her desire to go on offense in protecting EPA.
"I never defend -- I always attack," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in an interview, adding of Republicans: "If they want to repeal EPA [regulations] and stuff like that, I think we ought to go after them. I say, give them rope."
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), a longtime Environment and Public Works subpanel chairman, likewise sounded a similar note. "People on the other side can talk about costs" of extending EPA authority over industry," he said. "What's the cost of a life? What's the cost of a disability? ... We're not going to cower in a corner."
Lautenberg also underscored the importance of a proactive message that emphasizes the benefits of EPA's limits on emissions from power plants, oil refineries, chemical facilities and other "stationary sources."
Democrats should "make sure the public understands" the negative consequences of undoing Obama administration rules written to protect public health, Lautenberg said. "We're in great danger, and it fails to reach the public's interest because there's a tendency to look at things on a much more short-term basis," as opposed to the long-term footprint of a changing climate, he added.
Senate Democrats' willingness to take on the new House majority represents a notable shift from the previous Congress, when the president's party spent more time calming internal tensions. But the rise of House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) regime appears to have lit a fire underneath Senate Democrats, who held a press conference yesterday morning dedicated to accusing lower-chamber Republicans of budget gimmickry in their opening-day rules package.
"They're not going to be able to roll back [EPA regulations] without coming through the Senate," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in an interview. "There is a case to be made that, in the contest between corporate profits and children's lungs, someone should be standing up for children's lungs."
Of course, Senate Democrats face some enthusiasm for an anti-EPA push within their own ranks. A two-year delay in enforcing greenhouse gas emissions limits offered by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) attracted six co-sponsors in his party, and several more Democratic senators from manufacturing-dependent states may yet cross over to support it when an updated version is offered this year.
The Senate's strongest EPA defenders also are aware of the need to bring fellow lawmakers into the discussion as the agency begins applying its complex emissions rules to new and upgraded industrial facilities in several states.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) described himself as a strong backer of Boxer's approach, predicting that Democrats would "do everything we can to prevent the taking away of the responsibility of EPA to protect our environment and our health." He promptly pointed out, however, that "it's going to be easier to accomplish those [EPA] goals if Congress helps."
A jab 'in the nose'?
House Republicans hit back yesterday against Boxer's attacks.
Responding to Boxer's comments that the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA gave the agency authority to act on emissions under the Clean Air Act, Upton chastised Boxer for not including language pre-empting that power in a climate bill that she steered through her committee last year. He noted that Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) did include more pre-emption in their bill, which passed the House in 2009 (E&ENews PM, Jan. 6).
One of Upton's colleagues, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), was more directly critical. "Upton's right," he said. "She's wrong."
Echoing concerns raised by fellow conservatives and tea party activists, Bishop painted a broader picture of EPA as a poster child for executive-branch overreach. The agency and others like it, he said, "simply try to go around Congress rather than work with Congress. That has not helped the relationship, which wasn't great to begin."
Bishop had stronger words still for House Republicans' relationship with Boxer. "With Senator Boxer, there has never been a working relationship," he said. "It probably doesn't do any more damage than has been done for the last 10 years."
A senior Republican member of Boxer's own panel, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, said he had not seen her speech but expressed some frustration in response.
"I think now is the time for cooperation whenever we can find areas on which to cooperate -- I would like to see us cooperate on a clean air bill, for example," Alexander said. "You don't usually make a good start toward that by punching the people you work with in the nose."