Republicans and Democrats Go to War Over EPA

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The Republican Party has made no bones about the fact that, now that it controls Congress, it will be seeking to scale back environmental regulations in the U.S. as well as hinder the bodies that pass them. This was unlikely to be smooth sailing, and Tuesday proved to be the first battleground of an environmental policymaking war that is likely to stretch to the 2016 elections and beyond.

On the same day that the Democrats blocked the bill allowing for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the Senate, the GOP leadership unleashed a broadside on the Environmental Protection Agency. H.R. 1422, which passed the House, 229-191, seeks to overhaul the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, with its drafter Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) saying that the board “excludes industry experts, but not officials for environmental advocacy groups.”

While this sounds reasonable, Salon made the language plainer, adding that the bill seeks to forbid scientific experts from “participating in advisory activities that either directly or indirectly involve their own work.” Essentially, this would prevent the EPA from gaining advice on environmental matters from independent scientists unaffiliated to any business or state interests. Burgess’s bill, however, would allow the “industry experts” mentioned, some of them certain to be paid corporate shills, to weigh in.

This bill is one of three that the Republicans are planning to roll out in short order, all targeting the EPA. Besides gutting the agency’s advisory scientific panels, the other two bills would seek to weaken the EPA’s say in setting and regulating air quality standards and to change the transparency guidelines it has to obey. On Tuesday, the White House threw down the gauntlet, vowing to veto all three bills and attacking the Republicans for seeking to undo the work of “the most transparent administration ever.”

President Obama’s veto has not yet been wielded since the midterms, but he may soon have to. The blocking of the Keystone XL bill likely led to a sigh of relief from the Oval Office, the threat of a veto pushed back for now. However, in the wake of the success of H.R. 1422, there is little doubt the other two bills will sail through the House. The passing of the Secret Science Reform Act was scheduled for Wednesday.

Again, the language used in this bill makes it sound perfectly reasonable. It aims to ban the EPA from using in its findings science that is not “transparent or reproducible.” But this is not the GOP standing up for scientific literacy or for the importance of publicly accessible data. Bloomberg approached two of the bill’s backers, Reps. Lamar Smith and David Schweikert, for evidence of external sources having been unable to replicate scientific data used by the EPA due to such restrictions. Neither could do so. Roll Call also showed how some of the data used by the EPA is simply not able to be shared publicly, such as patient information.

These battles have now moved on to the Senate, where they are sure to receive a warm welcome by putative Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has stated that his top priority next year will be “to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in” and that he felt a “deep responsibility” to stop the EPA from issuing any regulations overseeing “carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.”

The blocking of Keystone XL shows the Democrats in the Senate are still up for a fight, so the GOP war on the EPA may not be all plain sailing yet. They are not alone in this fight, as Obama seems to have regained his appetite for a fight on the environment on the back of his climate change agreement with China. On Tuesday, which was truly a fantastically busy day for environmental policymaking, the White House Office of Management and Budget approved tougher federal standards for the recycling of hazardous waste.

This changes the EPA’s definition of solid waste, which had been watered down under President George W. Bush. This is sure to go down badly in the Republican camp and sets up a fierce Beltway fistfight for 2015.

Originally written for OilPrice.com, a website that focuses on news and analysis on the topics of alternative energy, geopolitics, and oil and gas. OilPrice.com is written for an educated audience that includes investors, fund managers, resource bankers, traders, and energy market professionals around the world.