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.
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
- 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
- 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