Helpful (or Harmful?) to U.S. Competitiveness — Lawmakers Seek to Eliminate EPA’s Ability to Regulate GHGs

In early February, Fred Upton (R- MI), the Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the Chairman of the Energy and Power Subcommittee, and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the Senate Committee on the Environment and the Public Works, issued a joint statement introducing the draft of a new bill called “Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011” which seeks to eliminate the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The preamble of the draft states the purpose of the bill as:

To amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the Administrator of the EPA from promulgating any regulation, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas due to concerns regarding possible climate change, and for other purposes.

The bill then goes on to provide that “the term air pollutant in section 302(g) does not include a greenhouse gas,” although it is later said that “the term may include such a gas for addressing concerns other than climate change.”

The three congressmen state that they prepared the bill based on the belief that “it should be the Congress, not the EPA bureaucrats who should be in charge of climate change policy”, and that they seek to prevent the EPA from imposing a “massive cap-and-trade tax.” Earlier this year, the EPA had begun to require that large emitters of CO2 report on their emissions and seek ways to reduce them.

Needless to say that the passing of this bill would be a huge setback for environmentalists who hoped that, even though no formal agreement was reached in the Copenhagen talks, there may yet be progress in terms of the regulation of GHG’s due to the unilateral obligations that many states, including the US, took on.  The representatives in favor of the bill state that they seek to protect jobs and the competitiveness of U.S. business, a sentiment which will surely resonate with many in a time of economic crisis.

However, given the fact that developing economic powers such as China are already giving massive subsidies to their renewable energy sector, the attempt to inhibit measures which promote renewable energy may harm U.S. competitiveness in the long run.  Similarly, the draft has also come under criticism based on the premise that its effect in the job market may be negative rather than positive. Natural Resources Defense Council Climate Campaign Director, Pete Altman, said that the regulations would benefit the job market by creating jobs in the pollution-control industry which already creates billions of dollars of export revenue for the U.S.

In his criticism of the draft, Altman also cites the opposition of the health professionals to the bill and their concern that the non-regulation of CO2 and other greenhouse gases would have disastrous consequences on public health. Altman cites comments by American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society, American Public Health Association, which state the regulation of carbon based air pollution is a necessity to protect against threats of lethal or chronic illness.

The fate of this bill is uncertain, and seemingly so is the anticipated effect it would ultimately have on U.S. competitiveness.

Written by Sinan Diniz, GIELR Staff