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Cleaning Up Biggest Polluters - Will Congress Have Our Backs?

As I write this, the Senate is debating an amendment to a small business bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's biggest polluters.

As I write this, the Senate is debating an amendment to a small business bill that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from setting limits on carbon dioxide emissions from the nation's biggest polluters.

We've been making a lot of noise about this effort to cripple the EPA and obstruct health- and science-based standards for climate change pollution, but in the last couple of days, things are reaching a boil in Congress.

The engineers of this push to protect dirty energy corporations, you will recall, are Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Both have introduced nearly identical companion bills in the House and Senate. But yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which Rep. Upton sits as chair, passed his Dirty Air Act. This means it is bound for the House floor for a full chamber vote sometime in the next few weeks, likely before the House's Easter recess.

At the same time, over in the Senate, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) popped into proceedings on an unrelated small business bill and offered Sen. Inhofe's Dirty Air Act as an amendment on that bill. The Senate is now preparing for votes on the amendment and the bill itself.

All yesterday afternoon, both chambers of Congress were debating these Dirty Air Acts, and debate has continued today in the Senate as senators prepare to cast their votes on a piece of legislation that would bail out big polluters at the cost of our health, future and well-being.

Each of these DIrty Air Acts would:

  • Overturn a Supreme Court ruling (2007, Massachusetts v. EPA)
  • Overturn scientific findings and substitute them with political calculus
  • Block limits on climate change pollution for the nation's biggest polluters
  • Block the EPA from being able to limit this pollution now and forever into the future
  • Prevent the EPA from even requiring reporting of climate change pollution from most industrial polluters, reversing a requirement that Congress itself imposed several years ago
  • Block future updates to carbon dioxide emissions standards for automobiles — updates that could America's consumption of gasoline. 
  • Make Americans more dependent on oil and fossil fuels
  • Increase amount Americans spend to fill their cars up
  • Block California from adopting stronger motor vehicle emission standards for greenhouse gases
  • Prevent investment in clean energy technologies
  • Prevent the biggest polluters from installing modern pollution control technologies

The good news is that out of the quagmire of illogic ascended some glimmers of reason. Jogging our collective memory, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) invoked another time in history when political minds wanted to strike down science: "In 1632, the Inquisition put Galileo on trial for heliocentrism," he said. "We are free as a political body to ignore science. It is possible for us to repeal a scientific finding, if we decide we want to. The Vatican did the same with Galileo."

In the Senate debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) argued that these Dirty Air Acts are even hoodwinking the people who voted their authors into office. "People may not have voted for a polluter poison agenda, but that is exactly what they are getting with this Inhofe amendment."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), who has authored a Dirty Air Act of his own, even came out railing against this Inhofe/McConnell/Upton amendment, calling it absolute folly for Congress to legislate away any action on carbon dioxide pollution in perpetuity. Instead, he pitched his own act, which by appearances would stop EPA from doing anything about the pollutant for two years but in reality translate into an indefinite stop-work order for the EPA and the death of any limits to this dangerous pollutant. Read this column by David Roberts if you don't believe me.

Finally, after all the ruckus in Congress, the White House made its position clear in a statement by spokesman Clark Stevens -- a position we hope the president will stick to with regards to any Dirty Air Act, whether it a total block of pollution limits or a total block of pollution limits masquerading as a delay:

This amendment rolls back the Clean Air Act and harms Americans' health by taking away our ability to decrease air pollution. Instead of holding big polluters accountable, this amendment overrules public health experts and scientists. Finally, at a time when America's families are struggling with the cost of gasoline, the amendment would undercut fuel efficiency standards that will save Americans money at the pump while also decreasing our reliance on foreign oil.

At this moment, the Senate is weighing the debate and hopefully preparing to reject Sen. McConnell and Sen. Inhofe's amendment.

We'll keep you posted.