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Clean Air Act Under Attack by your Government


Congressional Republicans are vowing to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from using the Clean Air Act to control pollution that contributes to global warming, underscoring the threat with a proposed deep cut to the agency's budget.

Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., chair of a House subcommittee on energy and power, said that "Congress intends to reassert itself" in the regulatory process at EPA and the Clean Air Act. He spoke at the start of a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would curtail the EPA's powers. At the same time, the GOP proposed a 17 percent cut in the EPA's budget for next year.


House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said the bill he and Whitfield are proposing would not weaken the Clean Air Act or limit the federal government's ability to monitor and reduce health-damaging pollution.

But EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told the panel that the legislation would eliminate portions of the landmark law that is essential for protecting Americans from harmful air pollution. The Obama administration contends the law and compelling scientific evidence on global warming have compelled the EPA to act.


Topic A is the agency's attempt to curb the release of gases blamed for global warming. Having failed last year to enact new legislation to reduce greenhouse gases, the administration is left to use existing law to achieve its goals.

That, Republicans contend, will penalize industries that otherwise could be creating new jobs, and they've made the agency a central target of their anti-regulatory agenda.

On Wednesday, EPA chief Lisa Jackson goes before a House committee determined to block her agency's steps to address climate change. Jackson contends the law and compelling scientific evidence on global warming give her no choice but to act.

The agency has been caught before in shifting political winds. But in the 40 years since Republican President Richard Nixon created the federal agency charged with protecting the public from pollution, and Congress nearly unanimously passed laws that have cleaned up the air and water, longtime observers say the atmosphere for the agency has never been more toxic than it is now.

"It's really been quite extreme," said William Ruckelshaus, who was the first EPA administrator under Nixon and later ran the agency under President Ronald Reagan, of the rhetoric being aimed at the agency this time around. "What are they supposed to do? Sit there and do nothing?"

The latest and perhaps most draconian attack came from former House speaker and possible 2012 GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who called for abolishing the EPA and replacing it with an organization more friendly to business.

That followed Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin's use of a rifle to blast a hole through legislation limiting the gases blamed for global warming in a campaign commercial. The stunt helped him win West Virginia's open Senate seat.

Mike McKenna, a Republican strategist, says Gingrich and Manchin are outliers in a more reasoned debate over how big the global warming problem is and the different approaches for dealing with it.

"I don't think the (political) base is ready to throw EPA out the window," McKenna said. "There are plenty of people across the country who want EPA ratcheted down and think it has gone too far, too fast."

Lawmakers of both parties have already introduced a dozen bills aimed at weakening, delaying or blocking pollution regulations. Business groups invited by congressional Republicans to describe their biggest regulatory burdens singled out EPA rules more than any others.

The main target is the agency's use of the Clean Air Act to control emissions of greenhouse gases, a law that the Supreme Court said in 2007 could be used to fight global warming.

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