Republicans go after top EPA official at hearing on air regs

By Stephen Davies

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WASHINGTON, July 6, 2016 - Blame it on the election season, the heat and humidity, or the combustible combination of House Republicans and a high-ranking EPA official.

Whatever the reasons, the hearing on air regulations in the Rayburn House Office Building was marked by more sharp words than usual, forcing Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's energy and power subcommittee to gavel the proceedings to order at one point.

When all was said and done, it certainly did not appear that anyone's mind had been changed. Republicans on the subcommittee sharply questioned EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, Janet McCabe, often interrupting when she did not answer yes or no.

Things came to a head about two hours into the proceedings, when Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, said that EPA regulations were draining “hundreds of billions of dollars” from the American economy each year that could otherwise go towards job creation.

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“The federal courts have demonstrated through their rulings that you guys are consistently overreaching,” Johnson said. “I think it's absurd, I think it's irresponsible. Quite honestly, Ms. McCabe, I think it's un-American. You obviously don't have a concern, and your department doesn't have a concern, for the economic well-being of the very people that create jobs in this country.”

When Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., got his turn, he said he was “a little taken aback by the hostility that I hear in this room” and defended McCabe.

Johnson, who had left the room following his remarks, quickly returned and reclaimed the microphone to say he and his fellow Republicans were simply doing what constituents wanted them to do - question EPA.

“If we're not going to do it, then who is going to do it?” he asked.

But Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., the ranking member on the subcommittee, said it was “absurd” and “extreme” to call McCabe un-American.

“There's no place in this hearing for a witness from EPA to be called un-American,” he said.

Whitfield said McCabe's actions had been called un-American, not McCabe herself.

Not long after that, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., became animated when questioning McCabe, accusing her of making a “false claim” that EPA's Clean Power Plan (CPP) would lower consumers' utility bills. But then he took a more personal tone, saying, “I've read your bio. You have never worked for the industry. You have worked against the industry from day one.”

“That is absolutely not true, congressman,” McCabe responded.

Rush asked Whitfield when he would stop McCabe from being “badgered” and said, “This hearing is getting way out of hand.”

Whitfield said the hearing “is not out of hand” and that McCabe had not been badgered. Climate change and EPA regulations are emotional issues, he said.

Regarding the substance of the hearing, however, McCabe defended the CPP, implementation of which was stayed by the Supreme Court in February without explanation. The plan is designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions at existing power plants and includes interim and final goals for states to meet.

But how the plan will be implemented, and the results that can be expected, are what had GOP lawmakers and some witnesses riled up on Wednesday. Their contention is that EPA is essentially “picking winners and losers” among the different energy sources, at a huge cost that will barely reduce the Earth's temperature - all while nations like China and India continue to build coal-fired power plants, canceling out any progress made in the U.S.

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“It's not flexible,” said Charles D. McConnell, executive director of the Energy and Environment Initiative at Rice University and a former assistant secretary of fossil energy at the Department of Energy. “It makes you choose wind or solar, period. You don't have an option.”

McCabe insisted that states have flexibility. When Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, said EPA was “picking winners and losers,” McCabe said, “Our job is to develop rules that control air pollution. We are not requiring any particular fuel to be used, we are providing broad opportunities for industry.”

EPA, confident that the Clean Power Plan will ultimately be upheld, has continued to work with states on a voluntary basis to develop their own CO2 reduction plans.

In addition to McConnell, witnesses included Travis Kavulla, president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and vice chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission; Lynn D. Helms, director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission in the Department of Mineral Resources; David J. Porter, chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas; and Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

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