Democrats on a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee said pending draft legislation would “gut” the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority under the Clean Air Act (CAA), but EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson did not go that far.

“I believe the intent [of the draft bill] is to gut portions of the Clean Air Act,” Jackson said during a hearing Wednesday on draft legislation, which is sponsored by Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She disputed Republicans’ claims that the EPA does not have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the CAA.

Under the CAA, the agency has authority to regulate six pollutants. But the CAA and its amendments “were never intended to regulate CO2 as a pollutant,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman emeritus of the committee.

A “discussion draft,” which was floated by Upton and Whitfield last week, would clarify that the EPA is expressly prohibited from using the CAA to regulate CO2 and other GHG emissions related to climate change (see Daily GPI, Feb. 4).

It also would repeal EPA’s endangerment finding, which held that CO2 and other GHG emissions pose a danger to the public’s health and welfare (see Daily GPI, Dec. 8, 2009). This laid the groundwork for the EPA to more stringently regulate emissions from power plants, refineries, factories and vehicles — even if Congress failed to enact climate change legislation.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who testified at the House subcommittee hearing, has introduced companion legislation in the Senate. The bill is “not going to weaken regulation of our air pollution” under the CAA, he told the House subcommittee.

In response to questioning by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), Inhofe agreed that climate change was “just a hoax being perpetrated on the American people.”

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) called on subcommittee members to listen to scientists on the climate change issue rather than politicians.

The legislation “will gut the Clean Air Act and prevent [the] EPA from addressing this enormous threat to public health and welfare. The only beneficiaries of this legislation are the nation’s largest polluters,” Waxman said.

The EPA regulation of CO2 emissions would make fossil fuels “prohibitively expensive,” Whitfield said. “I do get the sense that…those people who are pushing this country down a quick pathway to green energy are more interested in putting fossil fuels out of business.”

“We want all of the above,” including coal, oil, natural gas and renewables, Inhofe said. “If you look at the shale opportunities that are out there, we have enough natural gas to take care of this country for 110 years…We have to run this machine called America. And we can’t do it now without fossil fuels. If we could release all the political pressures that are on our resources out there we wouldn’t have to be dependent upon any foreign country or [the] Middle East for one barrel of oil.”

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), the ranking member of the House subcommittee, objected to the legislation. “The draft bill would eviscerate the EPA by repealing …[the] responsibility and authority the agency holds under the Clean Air Act to preserve human health and environment.” And it would overturn a Supreme Court decision affirming a lower court ruling that the EPA has the authority to regulate GHG emissions, he said.

“What irritates me the most” is that the Democratic members of the subcommittee had to “kick, scream [and] scratch” to get the majority Republican members to invite Jackson to the hearing, Rush noted.

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