The congressional divide over the power of the Environmental Protection Agency—captured in dueling 11th-hour bills in the federal budget battle—was a key piece of the budget deadlock that pushed the government to the brink of shutdown Friday.
And even though the issue has been resolved for now, the truce is not likely to last.
On Thursday (April 7), the Republican-controlled House approved a measure that would have barred the EPA from regulating emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The 255-172 vote came in response to the Democratic-controlled Senate’s rejection of a similar measure Wednesday.
|“EPA is out of control, and we have to send them a message,” said Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN).|
Those measures followed one in February, in which the House approved a budget bill to defund environmental regulations. Coatings and other manufacturers, power plants and the oil and gas industry are strongly backing such measures.
The Senate did not back down, however. In addition to rejecting the greenhouse gas bill (which got 50 votes but needed 60 to pass) Wednesday, the Senate also voted down three other amendments —all sponsored by Democrats—to limit the EPA’s powers. One, introduced by Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), would have delayed the agency from regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) for two years.
Thursday’s House action was largely symbolic, since the measure was unlikely to gain the support it needed in the Senate. Even if the Senate had passed it, President Obama was expected to veto it.
And, indeed, by late Friday (April 8), Democrats announced that Republicans had agreed to drop the House-approved policy riders that would have blocked EPA from issuing new restrictions on greenhouse gases or enforcing several other environmental regulations.
In exchange, Democrats have agreed to an interagency review of the effects of EPA regulations. Republicans say that EPA analyses of air pollution rules and other policies do not adequately address their economic effect.
That view has also been gaining some Democratic support. Last week’s House measure drew support from 19 Democrats, including Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross, who blasted the Supreme Court’s 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling, which gave EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
“The Supreme Court basically ruled that the EPA should regulate carbon dioxide,” Ross said. “And I totally disagree with that. That’s Congress’s job, not EPA’s job.”
In all, more than 120 House members and 18 Senators have cosponsored one or more pieces of legislation intended to prevent the EPA from reducing pollution from industrial plants and other sources.
|Greenhouse gas regulations are just one battleground in the congressional debate over the Environmental Protection Agency.|
The EPA dust-up was representative of the larger battle over the 2011 budget. The stand-off threatened to shut down the federal government at 12:01 a.m. Saturday (April 9) if the two sides could not reach agreement.
Democratic leaders said they could accept almost $35 billion in spending cuts for the remainder of 2011, but they would not consider limits on environmental regulation (or abortion funding, conservatives’ other key demand).
“We don’t have the time to fight over the Tea Party’s extreme social agenda,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-N.V.) said.
But Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) said, “It seems like liberals in the Senate would rather shut the government down than accept a 2 percent cut in the federal budget.”
In the end, both sides agreed to cut more than $38 billion from the federal budget that will run through Sept. 30.
Poll Shows Public Support for EPA
While the politicians wrangle, more than three-quarters of Americans, including 61% of Republicans, say they want Congress to let the EPA do its job.
A majority of Americans oppose efforts in Congress to block Clean Air Act regulations of carbon, smog and other pollution, according to a recent national opinion survey by Opinion Research Corporation (ORC) International for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
Conducted in response to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich's call Jan. 25 to dismantle the EPA, the 1,007-person survey also finds that 67% of Americans, including 61% of Republicans, oppose any move to abolish the EPA.
Among the key findings:
• Americans want the EPA to do more, not less: 63% say “the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water,” while 29% say the EPA already “does too much and places too many costly restrictions on businesses and individuals.”
• Americans don't want Congress to kill the EPA's anti-pollution updates:. 77% of Americans, including 61% of Republicans, say "Congress (should) let EPA do its job."
• Seventy-five percent of respondents oppose Gingrich’s plan to dismantle the EPA.