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Will the White House agree to weaken EPA? Now everyone disputes the story.

By Joe Romm  

"Will the White House agree to weaken EPA? Now everyone disputes the story."

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34 Senators, enough to sustain veto, call for continued implementation of the Clean Air Act.

Is the White House, in the quest for a budget deal, quietly preparing to accept some aspects of a House GOP effort to roll back the regulatory power of the Environmental Protection Agency, which would represent a significant weakening of the Obama adminstration’s commitment to combat global warming? So reported the Associated Press, but in a statement sent my way, the White House is denying it….

UPDATE: Dem Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (a member of which was the source on the AP story), has also released a statement denying it: “The anonymous source who contributed to the Associated Press story was inaccurate.”

UPDATE II: The Associated Press, which originally reported this story, did a subsequent version that watered down the original claims, so it seems like there’s no one out there on any side vouching for the original assertion.

That’s the WashPost‘s Greg Sargent who blogs at “The Plum Line.”  When I first saw the story reported at places like Grist and then Alternet, it seem unlikely and incorrect to me and the folks I know who are familiar with these discussions.

Because I thought the story was wrong, I didn’t blog on it.  But enough readers have raised concerns that it’s clearly worth a post.

I should also note that the Senate vote on the amendments to limit EPA’s power to regulate CO2, which were supposed to be held this week, have been pushed back until next week.  At the end, I’ll post a release from the office of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that make clear The Senate has enough votes to sustain a veto of any bill on this issue.

As for the White House story, Sargent has done the heavy lifting, so I’ll excerpt his story, which continues:

There’s a nugget buried in an AP story on the budget wars that claims the following:

A Democratic lawmaker familiar with a meeting Wednesday between Obama and members of the Congressional Black Caucus said the administration made it clear that some House GOP proposals restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory powers would have to make it into the final bill. In order to characterize the White House’s position, the lawmaker insisted on anonymity because the meeting was private.

It’s not clear which proposals the White House might accept, but those backed by Republicans would block the government from carrying out regulations on greenhouse gases, putting in place a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution.

If true, this would be striking. It would mean the White House may part ways with Chuck Schumer, who has adamantly insisted that Dems will not support any budget deal containing “riders” on Planned Parenthood or weakening the EPA’s regulatory powers. And as Kevin Drum notes, this would also amount to major capitulation: “It would mean that Obama has essentially given up completely on anything other than token action to address global warming.”

Precisely.  That’s why it seemed unlikely.

But White House spokesman Clark Stevens emails that the White House is still committed to opposing any EPA “riders”:

As the administration has made clear, the funding bill should not be used to further unrelated policy agendas, and we remain opposed to riders that do that, including as it relates to the environment.

It’s also worth noting that the original AP story said that it wasn’t clear which of the GOP proposals on the EPA the White House was supposedly prepared to support. The original story floated the possibility that the White House might only give on EPA plans to clean up Chesapeake Bay or shut down mountaintop mines “” and not on the core GOP proposal of scuttling EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gases.

As a side note, even Republicans I’ve spoken with privately concede that they’re well aware that it’s unlikely that the latter is a concession they could win, since it would be very hard for many Congressional Dems to support any budget deal containing it.

It is always possible that the Obama administration will do the wrong thing at the last minute, lord knows, but if they were to stand firm they can certainly block these amendments.  And given the the public’s strong support for EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, this is a winning issue if the Administration will do the kind of messaging on it that it has intermittently in the past (see 63% of Americans say “EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water”).

Here’s the release from Sen. Sanders office:

Senators Stand up for Clean Air Act

WASHINGTON, March 31 – Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and 30 colleagues today introduced a resolution calling for continued implementation of the Clean Air Act.

In the face of efforts by House Republicans and some senators to weaken the nation’s clean air protections, the resolution which specifies the benefits of the Clean Air Act has 34 original cosponsors who and will continue to seek additional support from their colleagues.

The landmark law saves 160,000 Americans from premature death every year and helps avoid tens of thousands of cases of lung disease, heart attacks, and emergency room visits. The act also has reduced major air pollution by 41 percent over the last 20 years even as the economy grew by 64 percent.

Sanders said, “It is absolutely unconscionable that in the year 2011 the Congress is debating amendments to gut the Clean Air Act and I am going to fight back.  I also think that at a time when House Republicans might force a government shutdown unless the EPA backs down from protecting public health, we must not let the budget process be used to deregulate polluters.”

Whitehouse said, “Americans are expecting us to roll up our sleeves and get to work, solving today’s pressing issues – putting America back to work, and reducing the federal deficit.  Instead, radical Republicans are using the budget process to push for extreme policy positions that would gut the Clean Air Act and roll back important public health protections.  These same Republicans are literally demanding that we compromise our children’s health to get a short-term budget deal.”

Carper said, “For the last forty years, the EPA has use the Clean Air Act to foster economic growth and protect Americans from life threatening air pollution.  Since the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, the EPA has saved thousands of lives and saved billions of dollars in health care costs,  while keeping electricity rates – adjusted for inflation – constant.  At the same time American jobs in engineering and design, as well as in manufacturing, installing and operating pollution control and clean energy technology are being created to meet our clean air needs.   Put it another way, the Clean Air Act benefits outweigh the costs by a margin of 30 to 1. Talk about a return on investment. It just doesn’t get much better than that.”

Kerry said, “Ever since Richard Nixon signed it into law, the Clean Air Act has saved tens of thousands of lives by curbing air pollution and helped jumpstart new technologies that created millions of jobs in the process. But somehow our political environment has become so divorced from reality, facts, science and history that today even a commonsense law like the Clean Air Act can be used as a partisan punching bag. This Resolution showcases just some of the Clean Air Act’s many achievements, and I hope it will remind my colleagues that under this law we were able to grow our economy and cut harmful pollution that threatens our families.”

The Senate is expected to vote soon on up to four amendments that would strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to reduce carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. An amendment by the Senate Republican Leadership would overturn EPA’s scientific finding that greenhouse gas emissions are a public health threat and allow the biggest polluters to spew carbon pollution without restrictions. It also would undermine fuel economy standards that are projected to save drivers of new vehicles up to $2,800 at the gas pump, save more than 2 million barrels of oil per day (roughly as much as the U.S. imports from the Persian Gulf), and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

House Republicans are also reportedly pushing for riders attached to their budget bill, which would shut down Clean Air Act enforcement of big polluters’ greenhouse gas emissions, to be included in a congressional budget deal.

Sanders’ resolution is also sponsored by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Environment Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Democrat Conference Secretary Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Sens. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Of course, 34 is the number of senators needed to block a veto override, if it should come to that (that is, if Obama vetoed a bill that had language restricting EPA).

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17 Responses to Will the White House agree to weaken EPA? Now everyone disputes the story.

  1. Mark says:

    If Obama doesn’t veto the Republican’s efforts to gut the EPA, that will be the last straw.

    It will be time to form the Climate Hawk’s party.

  2. MarkF says:

    “I should also note that the Senate vote on the amendments to limit EPA’s power to regulate CO2, which were supposed to be held this week, have been pushed back until next week. ”

    doesn’t Harry Reid decide what gets voted on and what doesn’t?

    if yes, why is this even up for a vote?

    I smell a dead rat.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Now, given Obama’s record, so far, what course of action do you really expect? And what decision is more likely to dismay the Democratic heartland and harden the resolve of millions not to bother turning out in 2012? I hope that I’m wrong, but when I discern a pattern of behaviour from numerous reiterations, I expect that behaviour to be maintained. It’s simply a question of probability.

  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    I agree with the essence of what Mark says, in his Comment 1: If President Obama substantially compromises the EPA’s authority, that will be the last straw for me, and the President can then count me out from continuing my support. I’ll vote for a different Democratic candidate, if an excellent one can be found, or I’ll vote for a third party candidate who is at least serious about global warming. I hope he retains full support for the EPA — no compromises.

    Jeff

  5. Michael Tucker says:

    We will know his true convictions by his actions. We have been talking for years and look at where that has gotten us.

    If he does negotiate away EPA regs and drops mileage standards to reach a budget agreement I am curious what his environmental/climate record would look like.

  6. Peter Bellin says:

    I could not help it. I went to the White House page, and left a comment. The gist of it was that I would support no Democrat who will not take strong action to avert climate change, or who would let these evil riders pass. I said I prefer a government shutdown to weakening of environmental protection.

    I also noticed this: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/03/31/advise-advisor-secretary-chu-energy-policy

    They are asking the public’s advice on how to reduce oil imports? I will wait until I calm down, and offer some suggestions. The more rational voices they hear, the better, I think.

  7. Ben Lieberman says:

    I hope that the AP story is wrong. It would be the last straw.

  8. DaveE says:

    Bravo for Sanders et. al.–I’ll send an email to my Senator Kerry saying the same.

  9. Mark E says:

    I’m naive, I suppose. I keep hoping that Obama is giving the deniers as much rope as possible to hang themselves, i.e., getting as many congressional folk on record as possible, before brining on a full court Manhattan Project/Apollo level full court science press. A press conference explaining his veto would be the perfect time to spring the trap. If it doesn’t happen, I’m with Mark (#1) as well.

  10. ballmerboy says:

    I gotta say, Mark E, considering all the ways that Obummer has found to disappoint progs and enviros, your hope sounds pollyanna-ish. I hope you’re right, I really really do. But BO seems to be one of those corporate Democrats you can’t underestimate.

  11. Lore says:

    Obama is giving them enough rope alright and they are ending up tying him up with it.

    As I said during the turnover in the last election, it will be another six years before any positive change takes place. However, the problem is we just don’t have that amount of time left to us. I fully expect JRs posts to be more along the lines of duck and cover by then. That is if there is still an Internet, at which point, to blog on.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Mark E, forgive me but your position looks a lot like the old definition of a second marriage, ie ‘The triumph of hope over experience’. In this case I believe that Obama already has a matrimonial record to put Elizabeth Taylor to shame.

  13. Edith Wiethorn says:

    Online – I tried to find Andre Gide’s preface to his play, “Iphegenia in Aulis” – because
    it perfectly expresses President Obama’s upcoming showdown – will he veto EPA-killing bills,
    when in fact he does have enough support to preserve EPA? In the preface to this play, Gide
    frames all the dire constraints in Iphegenia’s world & sets her in motion with a phrase like —
    – and now Iphegenia will get to show who she really is –

  14. Rick Covert says:

    Joe,

    I seen this president cave in time after time after time. The best thing would be for John Holdren and Paul Chu to resign if President Obama weakens EPA’s ability to act. We went from taxing carbon emissions, to cap and trade (the public option of climate legislaton in my personal opinion) to this joke of a bill where Harry Reid put a stake in the heart of the cap and trade legislation only to now have them in a position to limit action on climate change. Enough is enough already!

  15. Steve says:

    As documented by Paul Krugman and others, Obama is a lousy negotiator. He’s been caught several times negotiating with himself and giving the store away to his opponents who in the end get more than they ever dreamed possible. I’m sure by now Republicans see the pattern so instead of asking for the moon they ask for Mars knowing they’ll get the moon and maybe more. Obama continually allows his opponents to define him with little or no push back from him to point out the obvious hypocrisy and deceit from the other party. He behaves like a Republican plant.

    Given this record it would be foolish to take assurances from the White House on the climate file which Obama to date has demonstrated a clear lack of interest in. It is obvioius to anyone with two eyes that he doesn’t like getting his hands dirty. FDR he aint. Despite all the evidence to the contrary one of his delusions seem to include the right wing wanting to play nice with him on clean air and clean energy. The mantra seems to be lets go along to get along. We’ll see who caves but I’m not hopeful. Yes we can’t!

  16. Sasparilla says:

    Stringing it out to next week, eh? I wonder why since the EPA stuff shouldn’t be tied to the budget talks, right?

    Obviously this story came from someone involved in the talking…and, the President towards the end of last year said he was “open” to compromising on the EPA regs, whatever that meant.

    Obviously EPA gutting is going to get passed by the majority of the Senate (what a travesty) – if our President comes through and vetoes the bills with EPA restrictions (through election day 2012) then he will be able to have my vote in 2012, however much I have to grit my teeth to do it (for the opportunities he’s helped to loose). But that is a long time for him to stand for something he hasn’t shown backbone on since getting into office – I pray that he comes through on this measly thing.

    My cynical side says that the story was floated out to test the waters.

    I salute Bernie Sanders, what a dude and example of what a politician can be.

    Thank god we (barely) have enough people in the Senate to protect a Presidential veto on EPA restrictions (unbelievable how far we’ve fallen though…but if this is the best we can do, its the best we can do).

  17. Bill says:

    Thanks for posting this, and thanks to Senator Sanders and his colleauges for their resolution. I hope my current skepticism of this Whitehouse gets turned around soon by some inspired climate action.