House Democrats Opposed to Restricting EPA Authority Now, Supported it in 2009

By Matt Cover | April 5, 2011 | 3:55 AM EDT

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( House Democrats led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) have sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner opposing Republican efforts to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate “greenhouse gas” emissions.

Two years ago, however, House Democrats – again led by Waxman – voted to deny the EPA just such authority.

The bill Waxman and his Democratic colleagues oppose is H.R. 910, which was introduced by chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and has 95 co-sponsors. Debate on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday.

Waxman, the committee’s ranking member, wrote in the letter to Boehner Monday that denying the EPA the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide (CO2) and other substances blamed for climate change – would have disastrous consequences for the environment.

“We ask you to oppose efforts to undermine this landmark law,” said Waxman and 150 of his House colleagues. “In particular, EPA has responsibility, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, to take steps to curb carbon emissions using its current Clean Air Act authority.”

The lawmakers warned public health dangers could arise from not allowing the EPA to regulate CO2 – exhaled by humans and animals during respiration – and other greenhouse gases.

“Air pollution is costly,” they wrote. “It increases asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, respiratory diseases, and lung cancer, and causes premature deaths, hurting our families and burdening our economy.”

However House Democrats, in passing the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, stripped the EPA of the power they now want to preserve. That legislation was written by Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), another signatory of the April 4 letter.

Rep. Henry Waxman (AP Photo)

As part of that bill’s cap-and-trade provisions, the EPA was prohibited from regulating greenhouse gases as air pollutants, the very authority Waxman now considers vital to preventing asthma, heart attacks, and lung cancer.

“No greenhouse gas may be added to the list of hazardous air pollutants under section 112 [of the Clean Air Act] unless such greenhouse gas meets the listing criteria of section 112(b) independent of its effects on global climate change,” the Waxman legislation read.

However, climate change was the reason the Supreme Court in 2006 granted the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, including CO2, in the first place.

“A well-documented rise in global temperatures has coincided with a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Respected scientists believe the two trends are related,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court, finding that the EPA indeed had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as air pollutants.

This time around, climate change was completely absent from Waxman’s defense of the EPA.

H.R. 910 would prohibit the EPA from issuing any further regulations based on its Clean Air Act authority, and repeal regulations it has already issued – just the type of regulations Waxman and Markey sought to prohibit in 2009.

“The [EPA] Administrator may not, under this Act, promulgate any regulation concerning, take action relating to, or take into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change,” H.R. 910 says.