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Republicans and the EPA

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Republicans are upset with Barack Obama — again. This time it is over the latest Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed regulations to limit carbon emissions from power plants.

According to the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill,

The EPA already regulates sulfur dioxide, nitrogen, mercury, and particle pollution from power plants, but not carbon emissions, which account for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gases. The new standards will regulate carbon emissions from hundreds of fossil-fuel power plants, including 600 coal plants.

Power plants would need to cut their carbon emissions by 30 percent over 2005 levels by 2030. The United States relies on coal for 40 percent of its electricity.

Here is the EPA summary of the 645-page proposed new rule:

In this action, the EPA is proposing emission guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to address greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired electric generating units. Specifically, the EPA is proposing state-specific rate-based goals for carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector, as well as guidelines for states to follow in developing plans to achieve the state-specific goals. This rule, as proposed, would continue progress already underway to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants in the United States.

“We have a moral obligation to act,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in announcing the plan. The proposed rule is a centerpiece of the president’s climate-change agenda. Naturally, the Obama administration “claimed the changes would produce jobs, cut electricity bills, and save thousands of lives thanks to cleaner air.” In his weekly radio address, Obama appealed, as liberals are wont to do, to “the children”: “We don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children. As president and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing.” The environmental group the Sierra Club plans to “enlist 100 staffers to work with 26 states to mobilize support for the rule over the next two years, touting the regulation’s ability to protect kids, and families from asthma-inducing pollution.”

But, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “Today’s announcement is a dagger in the heart of the American middle class, and to representative democracy itself. Already reeling from the painful effects of Obamacare, the American people are now being told they have to shoulder the burdens of the president’s latest ‘solution’ in the form of higher costs, fewer jobs and a less reliable energy grid.”

Republicans in the House of Representatives joined McConnell in their condemnation of the EPA’s new rule.

Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement, “Four years after a Democratic Senate rejected cap-and-trade, the administration continues its pursuit to regulate where Congress refused to legislate. As the American economy shrunk last quarter, why in the world is the president pushing regulations that will serve to increase utility rates for consumers, send manufacturing jobs overseas, and hamstring our economic recovery?”

Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, chairman of the Energy and Commerce panel’s subcommittee on energy and power, commented, “It is clear that this administration is pushing regulations that are full of costs and no benefits, ultimately bankrupting the American people. We have already witnessed the failures and consequences of a government takeover of our health-care system, and we can’t afford the same mistakes with government takeover of our energy sector.” He also cited a recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce report that found “the EPA’s rule would cost $51 billion annually by 2030 and lead to a loss of 224,000 jobs.”

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas said in a statement, “It will close power plants and drive up electricity prices. These regulations will mean more jobs lost to places like China and India.”

This Republican criticism of the EPA should not be taken to mean that Republicans have any credibility to criticize the EPA, let alone any philosophical objection to the agency’s existence. However, it does provide an excellent example of there not being a dime’s worth of difference between Democrats and Republicans, and even less so when compared with libertarians.

Democrats have no problem whatsoever with a federal environmental-protection agency. Republicans generally don’t have a problem either, as long as such an agency promotes a Republican agenda. Libertarians consider the very existence of an environmental-protection agency in the federal government to be illegitimate.

Republicans helped bring into existence the EPA. Soon after taking office in 1969, Richard Nixon established the Environmental Quality Council and the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality. In late 1969, Congress passed, and Nixon signed into law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to “create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony” and to “assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings.” Nixon then expressed his intention to reorganize parts of various federal departments, bureaus, and agencies that dealt with the environment under one agency. After the idea was cleared through hearings in the House and Senate, the new agency, the EPA, came into being on December 2, 1970.

Like most federal agencies, the EPA soon grew into a huge bureaucracy. It currently has about 16,000 employees and a budget of $8.2 billion. According to the EPA’s website, the mission of the agency is “to protect human health and the environment.” Its purpose is to ensure that:

  • all Americans are protected from significant risks to human health and the environment where they live, learn and work;
  • national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information;
  • federal laws protecting human health and the environment are enforced fairly and effectively;
  • environmental protection is an integral consideration in U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
  • all parts of society — communities, individuals. businesses, and state, local and tribal governments — have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
  • environmental protection contributes to making our communities and ecosystems diverse, sustainable and economically productive; and
  • the United States plays a leadership role in working with other nations to protect the global environment.

Republicans helped to continually fund the EPA. The EPA continued under the next Republican president, Gerald Ford. During the presidency of another Republican, Ronald Reagan, the EPA continued even though Republicans also controlled the Senate for six years. In fact, the EPA’s budget increased by almost $2 billion during Reagan’s tenure. The EPA’s budget increased every year under the next Republican president, George H.W. Bush. When the Republicans had an absolute majority in both Houses of Congress during the last six years of Bill Clinton’s presidency, they not only failed to defund the EPA — they increased the agency’s budget by more than a billion dollars. The Republicans have controlled the House since January 2011. That means that the EPA’s budget of $8.4 billion for fiscal year 2012, $7.901 billion for fiscal year 2013, and $8.2 billion for fiscal year 2014 was agreed to by a majority of House Republicans.

Republicans had a real chance to abolish or significantly reduce the size and scope of the EPA but failed to do so. During the presidency of George W. Bush, the Republicans had a majority in both the House and the Senate for more than four years. If ever the EPA could have been abolished or scaled back, that was the time. Yet EPA spending during the Bush years peaked at $8.365 billion in fiscal year 2004 when the Republicans had absolute control of the reins of government. Bush had vetoed no bills by that time. He was rubber-stamping everything sent to him by the Republican-controlled Congress.

With a Democrat in the White House, Republican presidential hopefuls in 2012 railed against unelected EPA bureaucrats and expressed their desire to strip the agency of some of its regulatory functions, cut its budget, and rein in its power. Some even vowed to eliminate the agency altogether. Not entirely, of course. Newt Gingrich said he would replace the EPA with an “Environmental Solutions Agency” and Herman Cain said he would “eliminate all of the things that they have right now” and “then start rebuilding a responsible EPA.”

Republicans would generally say that most of the functions of the EPA are legitimate — just as long as the agency doesn’t propose too many egregious rules and regulations. It’s the same way with almost every other department and agency of the federal government. Just look at the Transportation Security Agency (TSA). Although Republicans created this monstrosity, they don’t hesitate to criticize it when it does something particularly outrageous. They fully accept the legitimacy of the federal government’s providing airline security, even as they recite their mantra of free enterprise, private property, and limited government.

Clearly, Republicans and libertarians disagree over the proper role of government. One thing they don’t disagree on, however, is the wording of the Constitution. Republicans claim to be the party of the Constitution. They never tire of expressing their fealty to the Constitution and chastising Democrats for departing from it. Yet nowhere does the Constitution authorize the federal government to have an environmental-protection agency, set emission standards, or regulate power plants. And besides, each of the 50 states has some kind of an environmental protection agency.

Thus, the real issue with the EPA has nothing to do with carbon dioxide, coal, efficiency, emissions, pollution, jobs, the economy, the environment, health, regulations, children, or climate change.

The EPA doesn’t need more congressional oversight. The EPA doesn’t need to be reformed. The EPA doesn’t need better management. The EPA doesn’t need its budget cut. The EPA doesn’t need its power limited. The EPA doesn’t need a Republican administration to control it. The EPA needs to be abolished because it is an unconstitutional illegitimate purpose of government and a menace to property rights.

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