By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, March 11 – The day after Congressman Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, called for repealing the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a congressional hearing Friday that “Congress enacted the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and America’s other bedrock environmental protection laws on a broadly bipartisan basis. It did so to protect American children and adults from pollution that otherwise would make their lives shorter, less healthy, and less prosperous.”

Returning to Capitol Hill for another in virtually non-stop House hearings on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Jackson zeroed in on both Republican proposals to cut EPA funding by one-third and on the draft Upton/Inhofe bill H.R. 910, the “Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011” which would block EPA from regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testifying in the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee hearing Friday. 

On the GOP budget proposal, Jackson warned that “Without adequate funding, EPA would be unable to implement or enforce the laws that protect Americans’ health, livelihoods, and pastimes. Big polluters would flout legal restrictions on dumping contaminants into the air, into rivers, and onto the ground. Toxic plumes already underground would reach drinking water supplies, because ongoing work to contain them would stop. There would be no EPA grant money to fix or replace broken water treatment systems. And the standards EPA is set to establish for harmful air pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes would remain missing from a population of sources that is not static but growing.”

Turning to the Upton/Inhofe climate change bill, Jackson addressed House Energy & Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton, R-Mich., directly. She warned him that his bill “would presume to overrule the scientific community on the scientific finding that carbon pollution endangers Americans’ health and wellbeing. Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question – you might be remembered more for that than for anything else you do.”

During more than two hours of questioning, Republicans repeatedly charged that the EPA's already launched program to reduce GHG emissions from major emitters like large refineries will drive up gasoline prices and strangle the economy. Jackson responded that the opposite is true, that by blocking EPA's authority to curb industry emissions, the Upton/Inhofe bill “would forfeit many hundreds of millions of barrels of oil savings. At a time when gas prices are rising yet again, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why you would vote to massively increase America’s oil dependence.”

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., charged Jackson with “misrepresentation” in claiming emissions regulation would lower rather than increase gasoline prices. When Jackson repeatedly asked to be allowed to respond, Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., said it was up to Gardner – and Gardner relinquished his time rather than give Jackson an opportunity to respond. That exchange may be a sign that with Jackson remaining both unruffled and forceful, Republicans could be rethinking the wisdom of giving her an almost daily platform for expressing her views.

Switching to agriculture, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said he's worried by EPA estimates that “37,000 farms are above the threshold as a major source” of GHG emissions. While Jackson confirmed “there is no intention” of regulating emissions from those farms, Terry responded that just as in the past with other sources, EPA is “only one lawsuit away from regulating” those large farms. Subcommittee Chair Whitfield noted that in fact lawsuits have already been filed to challenge the EPA's “tailoring rule” which is designed to ensure that new GHG rules would apply only to the largest emitters.

Despite the combative tone in much of the morning's questioning, the mood lightened when Terry asked about EPA plans to regulate “particulate matter.” Jackson replied that “EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to look at particulate matter pollution every five years and potentially adjust.” Terry told her “many of our farmers have to plow and that raises dust” and asked “Is there any attempt by the EPA to recognize the reality of farming and dust and exempting our farms?”

With an infectious grim, Jackson responded “There is indeed a recognition at EPA that dust happens.” Terry welcomed that as “a good bumper sticker.” When Jackson explained EPA is holding listening sessions on the issue with farming stakeholders, Terry concluded “Listening is good, exempting even better.”

To read about Thursday's House Agriculture hearing when Rep. Neugebauer called for repealing the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, click HERE. To read the nine-page H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act, click HERE. To read about the House subcommittee vote in favor of H.R. 910, click HERE.

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