Asthma, Baby, Asthma: House Energy Committee Eliminates Protection From Smog

by Jackie Weidman and Daniel J. Weiss

Last year, the House Republican majority cast 191 votes to weaken safeguards for our air, land, water, and climate. Their efforts to shred these protections continued yesterday when the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed two bills that would block protections from air pollution while allowing more oil drilling — all under the guise of “lowering gas prices.”

Both bills passed the committee on mostly party line votes.

The first bill was the Gasoline Regulations Act of 2012, H.R. 4771, sponsored by Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield (R-KY). This bill would eliminate the bipartisan mandate under the Clean Air Act that the Environmental Protection Agency set health standards for ozone (or smog) pollution based only on the best medicine and science. Instead, for the first time ever under this bill, the cost of pollution reduction would determine how much health protection to require. In other words, air pollution that triggers asthma attacks and respiratory diseases would only be reduced if the polluters could afford it.

In addition, the bill would require endless study of other possible pollution reduction requirements, using “paralysis by analysis” to block additional health protections. H.R. 4771 would slash these safeguards even though “more than 40 percent of people in the U.S. still live in areas where air pollution threatens their health,” according to the American Lung Association.

The committee also passed the Strategic Energy Production Act, H.R. 4480, authored by Rep. Cory Gardener (R-CO).  This bill would force increased drilling on public lands any time reserve oil is released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The SPR was designed to supply oil in case of a supply disruption, though President George H. W. Bush and the 104th Congress under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) sold reserve oil in anticipation of a disruption that did not occur, and to reduce the federal budget deficit, respectively.

This bill might inhibit the president from selling reserve oil in the wake of supply disruption, but it does nothing to lower oil prices since they are set on a world market and controlled by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel.

In fact, the Associated Press analyzed 35 years of domestic oil production and gasoline price data and determined that there is “no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump.”

During the debate on these bills, Ranking Democrat Henry Waxman (D-CA) reminded committee members that even witnesses called by Republicans understood that this legislation would not reduce gasoline prices.  He noted that “every expert at our hearings on gas prices, including the Republican’s own witnesses – told us that gasoline prices are driven by world oil prices.”

Not surprisingly, the members who support these bills took millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry. The Energy and Commerce Committee members received almost $10.5 million in lifetime campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Over 75 percent of these dollars – $7.7 million – have gone to 31 of the 33 committee Republicans. On average, Republican committee members received three times the contributions from the oil and gas industry than Democrats in the 2011-2012 election cycle.

This legislation is the beginning of a summer campaign to promote fossil fuels and tear down public health protection. On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee passed three bills to encourage oil and gas drilling on public lands — even while more than half of onshore and offshore leases for the oil industry sit idle.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced a series of “jobs and energy tours” that members will be conducting in their districts during next week’s recess. McCarthy also warned that more anti-public health bills will be coming onto the House floor in June.

As we continue to see house Republicans fulfilling Big Oil’s wish list, it begs the question: are our elected officials making decisions in Americans’ best interest, or are they letting Big Oil call the shots?

Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Daniel J. Weiss is Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

17 Responses to Asthma, Baby, Asthma: House Energy Committee Eliminates Protection From Smog

  1. clays says:

    When you have the cleanest air quality in decades it might be time to roll back some restrictions.

  2. Tom L says:

    On which planet?

  3. Brian Moench says:

    Wow. I guess the commenter would also argue that if you have never smoked it’s about time you started because that would stimulate sales of cigarettes and therefore the economy. A stunning piece of reasoning there.

  4. Chris Winter says:

    “…for the first time ever under this bill, the cost of pollution reduction would determine how much health protection to require. In other words, air pollution that triggers asthma attacks and respiratory diseases would only be reduced if the polluters could afford it.”

    Now, reducing costs is a worthy goal. But I surmise that this bill doesn’t consider health care costs. It’s not hard to find the statistics that show how treatment of respiratory diseases rises with pollution. Of course, that’s a cost the companies don’t have to bear — at least currently.

    Republicans: Devoutly lip-serving the reduction of government expenditures since 1980.

  5. Sasparilla says:

    Until the GOP controls the Senate (Nov 2012 anyone?) this kind of legislation isn’t going anywhere from what I understand (since it won’t pass in the Senate) – definitely gives a good preview of what will happen if the GOP gets the Senate (and god forbid sweep the House, Senate and Presidency) in November.

  6. John Hollenberg says:

    Yeah, better roll back those protections. We certainly don’t want the air to get any cleaner. Gotta keep those hospital emergency rooms busy treating asthma attacks–it’s very good for the local health care provider economy.

  7. colinc says:

    Thanks, clays, that is the most hilarious (and most idiotic) statement I think I have ever read on these pages! Try that line out in the comedy clubs in Beijing and Shanghai.

  8. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    God forbid, indeed. The Canadian option is no longer… an option.
    Remember Amerada (or was it Canusa) back in 2004?

  9. Leif says:

    Except for the fact that the worst effects of pollution are endured by the uninsured poor and thus more tax supported ER visits. You lose taxpayer, either way. Stopping profits from polluting the commons helps both aspects.

  10. M Tucker says:

    “McCarthy also warned that more anti-public health bills will be coming onto the House floor in June.”

    These freaks, Republicans and their supporters (one commented above), don’t give two s#&ts about Americans…the real Americans who make this country work and who pay the salaries of these diabolical legislators. They don’t care about the Americans who teach our kids and keep us safe, the Americans who defend our country and manufacture our goods and make the American economy function. These defectives think they are separate and do not need to consider the health problems of others. They actually believe they are somehow protected from filthy air and polluted water and they bear no burden from the health costs of others. I find it difficult to understand how these minions of the fossil fuel industry are anything but a clear and present danger to the wellbeing of Americans and the future of America.

  11. Well, we now know that a President Romney will approve the Keystone XL pipeline on his 1st day in office.

    Game over.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    When, precisely, do you expect that happy event to occur? And what will then stop the business genocidaires from going right back to their polluting ways? Their consciences? Pardon my mirth.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It would be hard to imagine a measure that better illustrates the Right’s absolute contempt for the well-being of others, even children. I do seem to recall a certain Nazarene once observing that those who harm children would end up inspecting the bottom of the sea, but this Gadarene rabble seem to only know their ‘Good Book’ in some bowdlerised version, in which the meek inherit nothing but toxic sludge.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s not that they do not care about others-they actively hate other people, and the natural world. I know that it is confronting to try to imagine the twisted psychopathology of this type, but the evidence is there throughout history, and, in some ways, that fulminating antipathy is worse than ever and is reaching a deadly climax.

  15. Joan Savage says:

    The HR 4771 discussion draft called for a Transportation Fuels Regulatory committee to study data from years 2016 and 2020.

    The committee is to make a report that includes economic consequences, within 90 days “after enactment” (not 90 after receiving the data, which would be tight enough).

    Logically, that means either that the act wouldn’t be enactable until 2021 when the 2020 data become available, or the authors of the legislation are terribly confused in developing their legal time line.

    As if that weren’t laughable enough..

    The US EPA routinely includes economic consequences in its evaluation of implementing regulations, so the proposed committee is redundant. The EPA includes health costs as well as other economic costs.

  16. Joan Savage says:

    Would you consider curbing the headline?
    It currently reads as if a house committee had eliminated protection from smog.

    They didn’t succeed in doing that, and in general it’s not in the power of a congressional committee to finalize law.

  17. Chris Winter says:

    Only three Democrats; but that’s three too many.

    And McMorris — that’s Cathy McMorris Rodgers from the fifth district of Washington. She’s a Republican.