Before the House of Representatives takes a two-month recess, its final votes focuses on a Republican package of pro-coal bills, which dismantle essential water, air, and climate protections.
The White House has threatened to veto the package for its “harmful measures that would undermine landmark environmental laws and adversely affect public health, the economy, and the environment.”
Coal has backed the GOP’s political campaign with heavy spending on TV ads, lobbying and political contributions. Coal and dirty utilities have spent a total $66 million on lobbying since 2011. House Republicans have received $4.4 million in career contributions from the coal industry — nearly 5 times the amount Democratic members received, according to a ThinkProgress analysis of Center for Responsive Politics data.
In 2012 alone, Republicans received 89 percent of the coal industry’s campaign contributions. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chair of the Energy and Commerce committee, has received $60,000 from both major utilities and the coal industry. Another sponsor, Rep. David McKinley (R-WV), is the top recipient of coal cash for 2012, receiving over $200,000.
The coal industry has also waged a separate “public awareness” campaign on pro-coal TV ads. The American Coalition For Clean Coal Electricity has so far spent $12 million of its promised $40 million election-year budget on ads this cycle. So far, total fossil fuel spending has exceeded $153 million.
Backed by a pile of corporate polluter cash, House Republicans and the Romney campaign have rallied around the myth that the administration is waging a “war on coal.” Instead of focusing on the slew of bills needing action, the GOP has waged a messaging campaign to oppose safeguards for public health against air pollution.
The GOP’s campaign is a giveaway to big polluters. It’s a plan that does nothing to moving energy policy forward — only threatening public health:
— It undermines clean air, clean water protections The package blocks EPA greenhouse gas regulation, prevents the EPA from regulating mercury, arsenic, smog, and coal ash from power plants. One bill repeals mercury standards that prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 5,000 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 5,700 hospital visits annually. The legislation also threatens water quality by stripping the Department of Interior’s and EPA’s strip mining regulation and protections in the Clean Water Act.
— Selectively edits out health concerns, science: Ignoring overwhelming scientific consensus, H.R. 910 declares that carbon pollution is not a danger to health and the climate. In the latest version of legislation blocking EPA carbon pollution standards, the House Energy and Power Subcommittee deleted a mild climate change mention, which said the U.S. plays a role “in resolving global climate change matters on an international basis.” On Thursday, the Energy and Commerce Committee heard from a hearing witness that carbon pollution is good for the environment, because it is “plant food.”
—Public health standards will create jobs: A spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) calls the package “jobs legislation.” But the same health standards Republicans oppose create tens of thousands more jobs in the manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of modern pollution reduction equipment. EPA protections against mercury would create a net 84,500 jobs by 2015, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Meanwhile, coal mining jobs in West Virginia reached a two-decade record in 2011. In Pennsylvania and Virginia, data shows a 2.3 percent increase and 6.7 percent increase in coal mining employment from 2009 to 2010.
The GOP’s effort could end up hurting the coal industry more by opposing technology that reduce the industry’s carbon pollution so it complies with the Clean Air Act. For instance, McKinley’s bill would prevent the EPA from reducing carbon pollution from power plants — the largest uncontrolled source — until the pollution control technology is economical. But that will never happen without a market for it, which requires some sort of pollution reduction regime.
— Makes U.S. more dependent on foreign oil: H.R. 3409 blocks new fuel economy standards that will save the U.S. 3 million barrels of oil daily and creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. These standards will reduce U.S. oil use, so blocking them will maintain our demand for foreign oil. The standards would also save the average driver a net of $4,400 on lower gasoline purchases over the life of a 2025 car.
With this package, House Republicans will add to their 302 votes against the environment, including 87 efforts to dismantle the Clean Air Act, 34 against the Clean Water Act, and 128 against pollution measures.