How a GOP Victory Could Dismantle Climate Change Policy
November 3, 2014
National Public Radio & Bloomberg BNA
With fall elections just hours away, Republicans may be on the verge of wresting control of the Senate from Democrats who have blocked GOP attempts to roll back environmental rules on carbon dioxide pollution, ozone emissions and expanded Clean Water Act protections. A Republican-led Senate would energize House Republicans to pursue their nearly four-year battle to roll back environmental regulations they see as overly burdensome to the corporate fossil fuel interests.
GOP Victory May Be Defeat For Climate Change Policy
National Public Radio
WASHINGTON, DC (October 23, 2014) -- The more carbon that gets released into the atmosphere, the higher the average temperature rises.
That's a scientific fact.
Human activities, such as driving, flying, building and even turning on the lights, are the biggest contributor to the release of carbon.
That too, is a fact.
And yet the majority of Republicans running for House and Senate seats this year disagree.
Ken Buck, the GOP senate candidate in Colorado admits he's a climate change denier. Ron Johnson, who leads in the polls of Wisconsin's senatorial race, has said that "it is far more likely that [climate change] is just sunspot activity or something just in the geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate."
And when Christine O'Donnell, the Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware, was asked whether human activity contributes to global warming, she said, "I don't have an opinion on that."
Conservatives in Congress are turning against the science behind climate change. That means if Republicans take control this November, there's little hope for climate change policy.
Today's climate change denial trend isn't new. Years ago, when President George W. Bush was in the White House, scientific data on climate change was censored, and some scientists and top-level policymakers resigned in protest.
Scientific Findings Dismissed
For 10 years, Rick Piltz worked as a senior official for the Global Change Research Program -- the main governmental office that gathers scientific data on climate change carried out by US researchers.
"It was an office where the world of science collided with the world of climate politics," Piltz tells NPR's Guy Raz.
In the spring of 2001, Piltz was putting together a major report for Congress. The report would include clear evidence that tied carbon emissions to a rapid shift in global temperatures.
Piltz says his team was told "to delete the pages that summarized the findings of the IPCC report. To delete the material about the National Assessment of climate change impacts that had just come out."
The IPCC, or Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is the international body that collects climate research from countries around the world. The National Assessment was a similar report that covered research from US-based scientists. In both cases, the result was conclusive: Climate change was happening and human activity was speeding it up.
But the Bush White House didn't buy it.
"The expertise had come together to make pretty clear and compelling statements, and to say that you didn't believe it was to say that you didn't want to go along with the preponderance of scientific evidence," Piltz says.
The science was being politicized. Over the next four years, almost every report Piltz and his team put out was heavily edited. References to climate change or carbon emissions were altered or even deleted.
By 2005, Piltz couldn't take it anymore. He resigned and told his story to The New York Times.
A Conservative Who Spoke Up
-- And Paid The Price
It's a big deal for Republicans in Congress to say they believe that humans are heating the planet. "People look at you like you've grown an extra head or something," says Rep. Bob Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina.
Inglis has represented South Carolina's 4th District for the last 12 years, but this one will be his last.
In June, Inglis lost the primary bid to Tea Party-backed Republican candidate Trey Gowdy, who accused him of not being conservative enough.
For the longest time, Inglis says, education, health care issues and the environment have been Democratic issues, while taxes and national security have been Republican issues. Inglis says that's not right.
"As a Republican, I believe we should be talking about conservation, because that's our heritage. If you go back to Teddy Roosevelt, that's who we are."
Inglis paid the price for speaking out about the importance of conservation and climate change.
He admits he may have "committed other heresies," such as voting for TARP and against the troop surge. "But the most enduring problem I had, the one that really was difficult, was just saying that climate change was real and let's do something about it."
Inglis, who also voted no on cap-and-trade, tried to make climate change palatable for conservatives. He proposed a revenue-neutral tax swap: Payroll taxes would be reduced and the amount of that reduction would be applied as a tax on carbon dioxide emissions -- mainly hitting coal plants and natural gas facilities.
Inglis also tried to connect the issue of climate change with the issue of national security. "We are dependent on a region of the world that doesn't like us very much for oil. We need to change the game there."
Inglis even stressed the need to hold the oil and coal companies accountable for their environmental practices.
Accountability, he says, "is a very bedrock conservative concept -- even a biblical concept."
Even though Inglis won't be coming back to the Hill to serve another term, he hasn't lost hope in climate change policy. The choice, Inglis says, is clear.
"Do we play to our strengths? Or do we continue to play to our weakness -- which is playing the oil game."
Tackling Climate Change Takes
Both The Left And The Right
Bill McKibben, scholar-in-residence at Middlebury College in Vermont and the founder of 350.org, says it is a tragedy that conservatives are turning their back on the science behind climate change.
"On this issue maybe more than most, we need that interplay of liberal and conservative," he says. "Liberals are good at sort of pointing the way forward in kind of progressive new directions and conservatives are good at providing the anchor that says human nature won't go along with that. That back and forth has been very useful."
If Republicans take control of the House this November, McKibben says, he doesn't see a future for climate change policy.
"Look, the Democrats -- with a huge majority -- couldn't pass climate change legislation even of a very, very weak variety this year, so I doubt there'll be any action over the next two years."
That is, unless conservatives decide to team up with liberals.
"We desperately need conservatives at the forefront of the fight," McKibben says. "The sooner that conservatives are willing to accept the science, the reality, the sooner we can get to work with their very important help in figuring out what set of prescriptions, what combination of market and regulation will be required in order to deal with the most serious problem we've ever stumbled into."
Republicans Would Target EPA Power Plant,
Ozone, Water Rules if Senate Changes Hands
(October 21, 2014) -- With fall elections just two weeks away, Republicans may be on the verge of wresting control of the Senate from Democrats who have blocked efforts to roll back environmental rules on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants, ozone and expanded Clean Water Act jurisdiction over US waterways.
A Republican-led Senate would energize House Republicans, who have few victories to show for their nearly four-year battle to roll back environmental regulations they see as overly burdensome to the coal industry and detrimental to economic growth.
The Environmental Protection Agency's power plant rule -- which would for the first time set limits on greenhouse gases emitted from electricity production -- is by far the biggest target for Republican leaders, including Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has relentlessly attacked the administration's proposed carbon limits as Senate minority leader. McConnell is likely to become the majority leader if Republicans win the Senate -- and if he holds onto his own Senate seat.
There would be multiple ways of attacking the EPA's carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants, which President Barack Obama wants to be finalized in 2015. The Senate could pass a resolution to nullify the requirements using Congressional Review Act procedures that allow Congress to overturn rules, or Republicans could attach language to appropriations bills that would block the EPA from using funds to develop or implement the regulations.
Since the president would almost certainly veto any resolution to kill the centerpiece of his climate agenda, the greater threat to the regulation could be through the appropriations process. Spending bills could prove more difficult for Obama to veto, particularly must-pass measures needed to avoid a government shutdown.
Increased Scrutiny From Inhofe
Environmental rules and other regulatory actions would also be under intense scrutiny in Republican-chaired committees, particularly at the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a leading climate skeptic, is expected to take the helm. Inhofe would be expected to "put the agency through its paces" on its power plant regulations, through hearings focused on how its carbon rules could hurt job growth and through repeated requests for documents, Scott Segal, an attorney with Bracewell & Giuliani, told Bloomberg BNA.
A Republican takeover of the Senate also would put Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) in charge of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where she would be likely to hold hearings on electricity grid reliability and other impacts of the power plant regulations. Murkowski in 2007 co-sponsored climate legislation to set mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, but in more recent years she has become a staunch opponent to EPA climate regulations.
A net gain of six seats would put Republicans back in control of the Senate following the Nov. 4 midterm elections. Democrats currently hold a 53-45 majority, with two independents joining their caucus. Most polling suggests the Republicans are favored to win between five and eight seats.
Republicans have not controlled both the House and Senate since the 109th Congress during President George W. Bush's second term; Democrats took control of both chambers after the fall 2006 elections but lost the House to Republicans in 2010.
Appropriations Riders Greatest Threat
Beyond the additional scrutiny regulatory agencies would face before committees, many observers said the appropriations process could pose the greatest threat to the high-profile EPA regulations.
"If you do a one-sentence bill that says EPA can't go forward with its [carbon pollution] regulations, the president will veto that," Thomas Lorenzen, a partner at Dorsey & Whitney, who previously served in the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resource Division, where he defended EPA regulations, told Bloomberg BNA.
"The most effective way they have to accomplish their ends is through appropriations. If you attach [a one-sentence de-authorization bill] to must-pass legislation, I'm not sure you're going to get the votes to override a veto. If you attach it to funding, that becomes much more difficult calculus for the White House."
McConnell, who would control the Senate agenda as majority leader, has vowed to "begin to restrict the funding" to the EPA on its proposed carbon pollution regulations and to hold votes on standalone bills to block the rules. Others, including Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), have publicly announced their intentions to use the appropriations process to block funding for the proposed waters of the US rule, which would clarify the scope of waters subject to Clean Water Act jurisdiction.
Others expect Congress to pursue more modest changes to many of the regulations rather than seeking to block them outright.
Smaller revisions to the carbon regulations -- such as delaying an interim compliance deadline that under the EPA proposal would require states to begin reducing emissions in 2020 -- could make a "profound difference" in reducing compliance costs without attempting to set aside the broader regulation, Segal said.
"I find it very difficult to believe that the president would shut down all or part of the government" in a "skirmish over interim deadlines," Segal said.
But many advocates for climate protection expect the president to hold the line. Bill Becker, executive director at the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, told Bloomberg BNA he'd be "astonished" if Obama were to sign any legislation making significant changes to his clean power plant rule, given that addressing climate change is one of the president's top domestic initiatives.
"For something like climate, I think he would dig in his heels," Becker said. But he acknowledged that the White House cannot stiff-arm both chambers of Congress indefinitely. The president is "going to have to pick and choose his fights," Becker said.
Hopes for Compromise
While much of the attention surrounding potential Republican recapture of the upper chamber has focused on how regulations might be struck down, some observers believe a Republican-controlled Congress could usher in targeted opportunities for compromise.
Bill Kovacs, senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, believes a Republican-controlled Senate could help advance permit streamlining legislation with the support of Democrats and might not attract Obama's veto.
"I think if there was a Republican Senate it would be an early priority," Kovacs told Bloomberg BNA. "We feel comfortable on this one because it hasn't been an issue we've gotten enormous push-back on." There is significant frustration from both parties about the lack of predictability and length of time required for project permits that could push Congress to get a legislative fix through, Kovacs said.
There have been modest improvements in permit streamlining even in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In September, the chamber unanimously approved legislation -- the BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act of 2014 (S. 2440) -- to streamline the approval process for oil and gas drilling permits on federal lands, led by Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).
The Chamber of Commerce, one of the most influential industry groups nationally, also sees the potential for real compromise during the final two years of the Obama administration given the lessons learned from a similar dynamic that occurred under Republican control of the chambers during the last years of the Clinton administration.
"If you get a Republican majority in the Senate, things might work out the way they did late in the Clinton administration, where there was actual compromise" after Republicans took control of both chambers, Kovacs said. He and other industry representatives said the late 1990s -- while often remembered for when Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton -- also was a time when both parties compromised over balancing the budget, regulatory reform tools like the Congressional Review Act and other issues.
"You shouldn't take that off the table," Kovacs said, recalling discussions he had with White House aides during Clinton's second term. "It was interesting how practical they became, not out of love, but out of necessity."
Senior members of Congress, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), also told Bloomberg BNA they see opportunities for compromise on issues such as energy efficiency legislation, although perhaps with additional Republican priorities like approval of the Keystone XL pipeline attached.
"I'm convinced that if we do get a Republican Senate, it's still going to be narrow," Upton said. "We've got to work together. We need to do that. No one likes dysfunction."
Approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is believed to top the list of Republican energy priorities should they win back control of the Senate in the midterm elections.
Leadership Pushing Standalone Measures
Despite optimism from Upton that both parties could work together on shared priorities, many other senior congressional leaders told Bloomberg BNA they intend to push standalone measures to block regulations such as the carbon pollution standards for power plants and proposed waters of the US jurisdictional rule.
"We've passed a lot of really good bills over to the Senate," House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told Bloomberg BNA. "The Senate hasn't acted on any of them. If we get the Senate -- which I feel confident we will -- we can finally start moving those bills to the president."
Scalise said many of those bills were included in a consolidated energy package that passed the House Sept. 18. Hinting at what Republican priorities might be with control of both chambers, the legislation included measures to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, block power plant carbon pollution limits, limit regulation of hydraulic fracturing and expand onshore as well as offshore drilling.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of Senate Republican leadership, said legislative action to block the carbon pollution standards for power plants and halt the proposed waters of the US regulation would be his "top two" priorities if the chamber flipped.
"Those two regulatory acts that EPA has out right now will do unbelievable economic damage and not produce the result that EPA suggests," Blunt told Bloomberg BNA. "The one on carbon only raises utility bills with very little to be gained on solving the carbon problem, and the one that expands the Clean Water Act goes way beyond the law's intention of navigable waters."
In addition to Keystone, the power plant standards and the Clean Water Act jurisdiction regulation, other House and Senate members said they would prioritize a review of the situation at Yucca Mountain, speed the permitting process for energy projects, examine how the administration developed its social cost of carbon figure and take other actions targeting a host of EPA regulations.
Democrats, for their part, told Bloomberg BNA they would work hard to prevent rollbacks of Obama administration regulations. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), summarizing the sentiment among many others in the majority caucus, said the feeling was a Republican-controlled Congress would be a "disaster" for environmental protections.
Possible Compromise on Jurisdiction Rule
One of the regulations on which observers believe Obama might ultimately compromise is the joint EPA-US Army Corps of Engineers proposal published in April to clarify the Clean Water Act's jurisdiction over the nation's waters and wetlands (79 Fed. Reg. 22,188). Opponents, including farmers and ranchers, argue that the proposal would unduly expand federal jurisdiction to farm ditches and other minor streams.
"Now this is a rule that has [drawn] significant Democratic opposition," in large part due to rural concerns in red and blue states, Kovacs said. "Every member of the House and Senate, virtually, has farmers in their district. Forty percent of roads are administered by the counties, not the states, and virtually every one of those roads has a ditch on each side," that opponents of the regulation argue could fall under EPA authority, Kovacs said.
"I would be surprised if that [waters rule] would be the kind of thing that Obama would say, `This goes against what we're doing at my EPA so I have to veto it,' " Kovacs said.
Don Parrish, senior director for congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said he believes Congress will look at all opportunities to stop the EPA from completing its work on the regulation, including standalone legislation and the appropriations process.
"We think some action will take place on the waters of the US rule in the next Congress," Parrish told Bloomberg BNA.
But EPA efforts to more clearly define the jurisdictional issues surrounding waterways have their defenders. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, told Bloomberg BNA he doubts the Republican-led efforts to block the joint rule have much of a chance of success. The Republican-controlled House approved a bill in September -- the Waters of the US Regulatory Overreach Protection Agency (H.R. 5078) -- by a vote of 262-152, but it is not expected to move in the current Senate.
"Even if the Senate flips, you still need 60 votes to move, and I don't see" that measure getting enough Democratic support to clear the chamber, Bishop said. "First off, I don't think the Senate will flip, and secondly, I don't see there being 60 senators who are going to vote for a bill that leaves in place a set of guidance that has been universally rejected by the regulated community and the stakeholder community."
"It will have no chance in this Congress, which is obviously over, and I can't see it going forward in any further Congresses," he said.
Ozone Standard Targeted
Another EPA regulation already named by Republicans as a top target next year is the agency's forthcoming possible revision to the ozone standard. If the EPA sets a more stringent ozone standard, as recommended by its independent science advisers and agency staff, it would trigger new emissions control requirements for power plants, industrial facilities and other sources in areas that do not attain the new standards.
House and Senate Republicans have already released companion legislation (H.R. 5505, S. 2833) targeting the yet-to-be released proposal on whether the EPA will revise or retain its national ambient air quality standard of 75 parts per billion for ozone. The bills would effectively block the EPA from revising the ozone standard until 85 percent of the counties that are not in attainment with the current standard are in compliance.
One of the House bill's sponsors, Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas), said action pushing back on the EPA proposal would be likely in the first half in 2015, and he vowed that fighting the ozone standard would be his top energy priority in the new Congress.
Becker said he can't imagine the president would go along with legislation to prevent EPA from setting a more stringent standard, but said he really wasn't sure. With a Republican Senate, advocacy groups would need to analyze such far-reaching proposals more clearly and make the true effects of those proposals clear to policymakers, rather than counting on the Democratic-controlled Senate to block them, Becker said.
"Many would hope that [Obama] would not back off," Becker said, "but who knows?"
The Senate sponsor of the bill to effectively block any potential ozone revisions, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), is a member of Senate Republican leadership and would be likely to push for consideration of the measure to fight against what he described as the most costly and burdensome EPA regulation in history.
Other Attacks on Climate Agenda
While it's clear that the EPA power plant regulations would be at the center of attacks on Obama's climate action plan, observers say other areas of the climate change agenda could also be at risk with a Republican-controlled Senate.
House Republicans have already indicated in their fiscal year 2015 budget blueprint that they want to cut international climate financing. The blueprint, released in April, specifically called for eliminating contributions to two funds established by the Obama administration to provide foreign assistance for energy efficiency and climate mitigation efforts.
If Republicans take over the Senate, too, it's possible they could go after "some high-profile, resonant elements of the budget" for climate science, according to Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Potential targets include international work through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and federal research conducted by the US Global Change Research Program, he told Bloomberg BNA.
Climate research and observations carried out by agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration might also face budget cuts, Meyer said.
"It wouldn't surprise me if 2015 looked a lot like 1995," Daniel J. Weiss, senior vice president for campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters, told Bloomberg BNA. In 1995, the government shut down after Republicans, led by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, "loaded up" spending bills with provisions that were unfavorable to the president, including some to block enforcement of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other environmental controls, Weiss said.
TSCA Reform Implications
Looking beyond air and water regulations, congressional attempts to modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act are likely to continue under the next Congress, said Charles Franklin, senior counsel with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP; Lawrence Culleen, a partner in Arnold & Porter LLP; and Lynn Bergeson, managing partner of Bergeson & Campbell PC. But the legislative approach could vary significantly depending on who controls the Senate.
If the Republicans win the Senate majority, they may be more likely to move the original Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S. 1009), introduced by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and the late Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in May 2013, because it might be more acceptable to the House.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who currently chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has been a key obstacle to moving legislation due to her concerns that TSCA reform not impinge on state programs. But if Republicans take back control of the chamber, Boxer would not be in a key leadership position, and that could make TSCA reform more probable, Bergeson said.
"There are signs the House will remain engaged, suggesting that 2015 could be the year for TSCA reform," Bergeson said. "How extensive the reform, whether it will address all the TSCA issues that have been discussed for years, whether it will stem the tide of state chemical-specific measures and whether consumer confidence will be restored in TSCA are all open questions."
Negotiations between Boxer and Vitter in hopes of reaching a compromise on TSCA reform collapsed in September.
Stream Buffer Rule at Risk?
Both Democratic and Republican House staff members told Bloomberg BNA a Republican majority in both chambers could also mean a halt in the Interior Department's promulgation of a stream protection rule.
An Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement rule that was promulgated in 2008, which the mining industry touted as an economic boost to the nation, was vacated by a federal court in February (Nat'l Parks Conservation Ass'n v. Jewell, D.D.C., No. 1:09-cv-00115, 2/2014).
The rule would have significantly relaxed restrictions regarding how close mining waste could be dumped near streams, which a House Democratic aide said would significantly harm drinking water and aquatic life. Meanwhile, a House Republican aide told Bloomberg BNA that a rewrite of the rule could cost thousands of coal mining jobs and harm the economies of roughly 22 states.
House Republicans have sought to block the Office of Surface Mining from issuing a new, more stringent stream protection rule through legislation, including passage of H.R. 2084 in March.
Ongoing Gridlock Predicted
Among all the predictions for congressional priorities and potential ways to address regulations, many observers said the most likely outcome would be a familiar one: Congressional gridlock and an inability to work together on environmental and energy issues would prevent much from being accomplished.
"This spectacularly unproductive Congress will likely continue to do as little as possible after the midterm elections as there is no basis to conclude otherwise," Bergeson said.
With assistance from Andrea Vittoria, Amena H. Saiyid, Pat Rizzuto, Rachel Leven, Andrew Childers and Patrick Ambrosio in Washington
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.