House Passes Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011

greenhouse_gas-EPA-HouseOn Thursday, the House passed the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 by 83 votes, with 255 representatives, including nineteen Democrats, voting in favor of the bill and 172 representatives voting against.

If passed in the Senate, the bill would strip the EPA of its power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Its passage would also render null the 2007 Supreme Court ruling requiring the EPA to regulate the same.

Representative Upton (R-MI), Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, introduced the bill with the stated intention of preventing the EPA from implementing a “back door” cap-and-trade system.

Cap-and-trade refers to the bill defeated in the Senate two years ago, within which a maximum emissions level would have been set. This maximum level would have been maintained through a market where large-scale polluters could purchase pollution permits from those who polluted less, and therefore had surplus permits. Senator Upton voiced concern that the EPA’s power to regulate large-scale polluters would enable it to establish a similar system.

 “This is the same debate we had last year when both Congress and the American people soundly rejected the cap-and-trade regulatory scheme. The rules supported by EPA seek the same ends as cap-and-trade and are no less costly in terms of lost American jobs and higher energy prices,” he stated.

Critics of the bill argued that its passage represented a backwards step in addressing both harmful greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Stated Representative Peter Welch (D-VT), “Supporters of this legislation are following the long-established tradition we humans have, the ability to disregard the obvious and proven when that conflicts with our ideology.”
Representative Welch was joined in his criticism by other members of Congress, numerous environmental non-profits, and health organizations including the American Lung Association. In a press conference held before the House vote, an official with the Union of Concerned Scientists referenced a letter signed by 2,500 scientists urging Congress to defeat the bill, stating, “this bill would legislatively overturn the overwhelming scientific evidence showing that carbon emissions pose a clear threat to public health.”

Passage in the Senate is unlikely however, as the bill currently does not appear to have enough votes to prevent a filibuster. A similar bill introduced by Senator McConnell (R-KY) was defeated in the Senate last Wednesday, receiving only 50 votes and therefore falling short of the filibuster-proof 60 votes.

President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation which seeks to impinge upon the EPA’s ability to regulate emissions. The White House released a statement supporting the Senate’s rejection of Senator McConnell’s bill, stating,

“By rejecting efforts to roll back E.P.A.’s common-sense steps to safeguard Americans from harmful pollution, the Senate also rejected an approach that would have increased the nation’s dependence on oil, contradicted the scientific consensus on global warming, and jeopardized America’s ability to lead the world in the clean energy economy. The Clean Air Act is a vital tool in protecting our families — particularly children — from a wide variety of harmful pollutants that cause asthma and lung disease, and the administration remains committed to protecting this important law.”

However, the debate regarding the extent to which the government should regulate carbon emissions remains contentious, with members of congress occasionally crossing party lines in votes. The bill defeated in the Senate last week included four votes in favor from Democrats.

Democrats themselves are also sponsoring legislation offering more moderate options to those outlined in the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011. One such bill, though defeated, still received 12 Democratic votes.

Commenting on the bipartisan support for the bill,  Representative Upton stated, “From the outset, it has been my goal to advance a sensible, bipartisan plan through both the House and Senate so we can stop the EPA and put Congress back in charge of our energy future.”

However, critics of the bill site re-election concerns when referencing Democratic support. A New York Times piece examining the Democrats who voted in favor of the bill found that many won their re-election bids by small margins or are facing difficult 2012 re-election campaigns.

Representative Upton and Senator McConnell have both indicated that if the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 fails to pass in the Senate, new legislation will be drafted.

Image courtesy of Oregon Environmental Public Health Tracking

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