Wednesday, February 9, 2011

House of Representatives v. EPA, Round I

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives attack on the EPA has officially begun. Today, the House Appropriations Committee released a partial list of spending cuts that includes a massive $1.6 billion reduction in the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency (compared to the President's fiscal year 2011 request).  That amounts to 16-17% reduction.

At the same time, the House Energy and Commerce Committee was taking its first shots at EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, at a hearing on a bill sponsored by Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) that would reverse the EPA's finding, based exclusively on scientific evidence, that carbon dioxide endangers public health and the environment, as defined in the Clean Air Act. I have not yet been able to find a link to the hearings, but the opening statements of Committee members, Administrator Jackson and other witnesses, are available here.

As Administrator Jackson observes in her opening remarks (here), the threatened legislative reversal of EPA's endangerment finding would mark a dangerous step in the ongoing politicization of science. It would be the first time Congress has ever overturned a federal agency's scientific finding. However, the chance of enactment seems remote, as the Democrat-dominated Senate is unlikely to go along; and even if it did, President Obama would certainly veto the measure, and the Republicans don't have enough votes to override it. The same political calculus applies to the budget cuts proposed today by the House Appropriations Committee. Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting (here) that House Republican leaders already are facing internal party dissent over their failure to make even deeper cuts.

I'll leave it to others to debate whether today's events were significant or mere theater. Either way, we should be prepared for many repeat performances over the next two years (at least). The House Republicans seem to believe that the EPA is an easy target in the current climate of slow economic recovery and conservative resurgence. Only time - and ultimately the 2012 elections -  will tell whether they are right.

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