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Science and the Law: Leave EPA To Do Its Job

In the back and forth between climate skeptics and conservationists, we’ve clearly got two things on our side (although many of our foes would argue this): science and the law.

This point was clearly delineated during a panel discussing the congressional attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (and the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act) at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami last week.

“Those rules are required by law,” said Lisa Heinzerling, a Georgetown law professor who is a former EPA official and most notably argued the landmark Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court case.

Heinzerling was referring to several EPA rules that GOP lawmakers have taken aim at, among them one that would rein in pollution from cement plants, and another rule to curb pollution from industrial boilers.

The EPA “is doing what they are doing because the law tells them to do that. If someone wants to change that, then they must change the law,” Heinzerling said. She added that the EPA proposes rules based on science, not costs. The hyperbolic economic numbers many of our congressional leaders are throwing around “don’t withstand even a passing glance.”
Heinzerling was responding to GOP strategist Mike McKenna’s assertion that congressional leaders are fighting these regulations because of economics. 

“I don’t think it’s a fight that House Republicans chose,” McKenna said. “It’s a fight that came to them.”

David Goldston of NRDC said he lived through a congressional attack on the environment in the 1990’s  but “this is a broader, deeper assault.” Leaders are trying to “change the fundamental law, not just blocking regulations.”

Michael Brune of the Sierra Club said the reason why these rules are under attack is because progress has been made: heavy-duty trucks are now being regulated, cars are more efficient and we’re moving toward retiring 10 percent of our U.S. coal fleet.

We are making more progress and weaning ourselves off of dirty energy, he said. And this threatens the profits of many in Congress and their corporate benefactor polluters.

Dina Cappiello, the Associated Press environmental reporter who moderated the discussion, called on panel attendees to read the language of all the anti-environmental legislation moving through Congress.  “These are not just time-outs,” she said.

And while some of our congressional leaders are targeting our water and air, Heinzerling pointed out that it was an “imposition of a few on the very many.”

There are only a few facilities that would be affected by these rules, yet the imposition to our air, water and land would affect many many people, she said.

David Jenkins of Republicans for Environmental Protection expressed frustration that GOP values now run counter to environmental stewardship, when conservatism once included principles of environmentalism. He believes that GOP lawmakers have been overrun with special interest groups and a small segment of leaders with Libertarian values and heavy fossil fuel interests.

“Clean air and clean water are expected by most Americans regardless of their political stripes,” he said.

As companion bills move through the Senate, the economic argument will continue creeping up. But science and the law don’t lie. We clearly have both on our side, but we’ll need all the force we can muster to withstand these attacks.