The GOP is trying out a new tactic in its opposition to the White House’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. On Tuesday, House Republicans launched an investigation into what they say was “improper influence” by a national environmental group in the Environmental Protection Agency’s creation of a federal rule reducing carbon emissions from power plants.
As The Hill reported, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, along with Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, have issued a demand that EPA and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) turn over documents from 2009 and on concerning the latter group’s involvement in the design of the carbon rule. The push is being headed up by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
Vitter was also the motive force behind a recent investigation into the propriety of how government agencies calculate the social cost of carbon — a move that came to naught when the government’s internal watchdog endorsed the agencies’ methodology.
“It appears that NRDC’s unprecedented access to high-level EPA officials allowed it to influence EPA policy decisions and achieve its own private agenda,” Vitter, Issa, and the other Republicans wrote in a letter. “Such collusive activities provide the NRDC, and their financial backers, with an inappropriate opportunity to wield the broad powers of the executive branch.”
Their accusation appears to be rooted in a July story from the New York Times, that described the NRDC’s work as the “blueprint” for EPA’s rule, and which said the group “heavily influenced the president’s proposal.”
NRDC’s own proposal for how the carbon rule could be constructed was certainly the most prominent and well-respected contribution to the discussion in the run-up to EPA’s construction of the rule. But as Gina McCarthy, the head of EPA, along with the agency’s air and radiation chief, pointed out in their responses to the New York Times story, EPA consulted with “literally thousands of thoughtful stakeholders” in designing the regulation — standard procedure for a rulemaking of this magnitude.
“You crafted a proposal that ensures states and utilities have the flexibility they need to reduce carbon pollution in a practical and affordable way,” McCarthy wrote in her memo to her staff. “You gave up evenings, weekends and time with your families to make sure we got this right, and you have the empty takeout boxes and coffee cups to prove it.”
While the EPA rule contains structural similarities to NRDC’s proposal, the agency ultimately decided to cut only 30 percent of the power sector’s emissions by 2030 — a significantly less aggressive target then NRDC proposed.
And EPA’s rule may change further as the public comment and consultation period for the rulemaking winds up. On top of that, the portions of the EPA rule that do mimic NRDC’s proposal include the fact that each state gets its own reduction target, tailored to its energy needs, and is provided a huge menu of flexible options for how to reach that target. Those are among the key reasons why compliance with the rule is unlikely to harm the economy or raise electricity prices for the poor — contrary to the Republicans’ claim that “an ideological and partisan group drafted a rule that places a tremendous cost on everyday Americans through increased electricity prices.”
As Rebecca Leber at The New Republic pointed out, the accusation also requires more than a little bit of chutzpah: during the George W. Bush administration, a rulemaking by the EPA used several paragraphs that matched verbatim language from memos supplied by two different law firms for the oil industry.
In fact, reliance on outside contractors, firms, and lobbying groups to craft the nuts and bolts of policy has been commonplace across both parties since the mid-1990s. That was when budget cuts pushed by the House Republicans decimated the internal support staff Congress members had traditionally relied upon for the knowledge and skills necessary to design laws.