The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bowed yet again to heavy political pressure from Congressional Republicans and industry lobbyists when it announced Monday plans to delay the release of a new rule on greenhouse gas emissions.
Staunch opposition from GOP, oil, and coal industry leaders has temporarily stifled the agency’s attempts to ratchet up regulations on air pollution to mitigate the effects of climate change.
John Broder of The New York Times calls the decision, “a tacit admission that the regulations pose political, economic and technical challenges that cannot be addressed on the aggressive timetable that the agency set for itself early in the Obama administration.”
The proposed rule would bolster regulations in place under the Clean Air Act to limit air pollution emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants and refineries, which together account for nearly 40% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Formal agreements were made to update the pollution standards over six months ago in December 2010 in response to pressure from states, local governments and environmental advocacy groups.
According to an EPA press release last December, “the schedule issued in [the] agreements provides a clear path forward for these sectors and is part of EPA’s common-sense approach to addressing GHGs from the largest industrial pollution sources.”
The preliminary standards were scheduled to be released in coming weeks. The EPA was to propose the new power plant standards by July 2011, and follow with standards for refineries by December 2011. After a period of public comment, the standards were to be finalized by May 2012 and November 2012 respectively.
Evidently, the May and November 2012 deadlines still stand as the expected dates for a final ruling. Tensions continue to escalate on Capitol Hill, however, as both conservatives and liberals go head to head on what is becoming an increasingly polarized issue.
Just this morning, EPA Chief Lisa Jackson denounced American Electric Power and other opponents of the regulations, saying their executives were painting a “doomsday” scenario of the ramifications of the new standards.
As Lucia Graves of The Huffington Post reports, Jackson “accused industry lobbyists of distorting the truth for a paycheck.”
Jackson testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee saying: “While Americans across the country suffer from this pollution, special interests who are trying to gut long-standing public health protections are now going so far as to claim that these pollutants aren’t even harmful. These myths are being perpetrated by some of the same lobbyists who have in the past testified before Congress about the importance of reducing mercury and particulate matter. Now on behalf of their clients, they’re saying the exact opposite.”
Environmental advocates have backed her position, adding that the EPA is backpedaling by delaying the release of the new standards.
Speaking for the opposition, critics claim that such regulations, if imposed, would stifle economic growth by forcing unemployment and higher energy costs to offset new overhead costs for improvements to existing power plants and refineries.
GOP opponents cite over-regulation as the chief offense, warning that the agency’s new standards will “have a profound effect on the price, supply and reliability of electricity by forcing modifications to, or the shutdown of, dozens of older power plants.”
Jackson “hit back,” however, citing statistics that indicate as many as 17,00 premature deaths, 11,000 heart attacks, and 120,000 cases of childhood asthma could be averted by more stringent air quality control and the reduction of air pollutants.
Just today the EPA released five locations (Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Puerto Rico, Chicago) that would fail to meet more stringent air standards for lead were the new regulations imposed. Yet, the agency continues to “stress flexibility and public input” by setting a conservative pace for change.
Ultimately, it appears another economy vs. environment debate lies at the heart of the situation.
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