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High-stakes debate looming over EPA power to regulate pollutants

March 2, 2011

The showdown in the U.S. Congress over the EPA’s power to regulate pollutants has been slightly postponed, but recent actions by the House of Representatives make clear that the upcoming debate will be high-stakes.

The assault on the EPA arose when the House recently passed a Continuing Resolution (C.R.).  Although ostensibly a budget bill, the C.R. was loaded down with amendments to limit or revoke the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, mercury and other air toxics, water pollutants, coal ash, and mountaintop removal wastes. 

Many of the amendments to this supposed budget bill do not reduce expenditures.  Rather, they simply halt EPA enforcement of programs to stop big polluters from contaminating air and water. 

The C.R. has now been supplanted by a stopgap, short-term continuation of funding that does not include the House’s amendments.  Thus, Congress will temporarily dodge the bullet aimed at the heart of the EPA.

However, when the budget debate resumes in a few short weeks, both houses of Congress will likely have to consider the sweeping restrictions that the House tried to impose on the EPA.  These included provisions to:

  • Block the EPA from enforcing the rule that regulates mercury and other air toxics emissions from cement plants.  Mercury can damage the developing brain, reduce IQ, and cause mental retardation, behavioral problems, and developmental abnormalities.  Cement plants are a major source of mercury emissions in the U.S.
  • Eliminate funding for EPA control of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources.  This would exempt coal-fired power plants, steel mills, refineries and other major greenhouse gas emitters.
  • Prohibit the use of funds by EPA to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, thus prematurely ending EPA consideration of regulating the safe disposal of this toxic substance.
  • Stop the EPA from administering or enforcing Clean Water Act provisions for mountaintop removal.
  • Halt certain state and regional water standards and programs.

In the long run, these actions are projected to increase health care costs as our society faces the rising illnesses that will inevitably result. PSR’s chapters and national office continue to work to underscore to Congress the importance to health of reducing air and water toxics. 

Not all the amendments were budget-neutral; total funding for the EPA was slashed by $3 billion.

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