Climate

Scott Walker: Let’s Gut The EPA

CREDIT: AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during Rick Scott's Economic Growth Summit in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Tuesday, June 2, 2015.

Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) said Tuesday that the EPA should be gutted, taking “major portions of the funding and responsibilities of the federal government in that regard, natural resource protection, and send it back to the states.”

“One of the things I’d love to see the next Congress and the next president hone in on is pulling major portions of Washington and sending it back to the states,” Walker told a crowd at an event in Disney World. “The EPA’s a good example. Every state has an equivalent of the EPA. Every state that has it, not that they’re all perfect, but they’re much more effective, much more efficient and certainly much more accountable at the state and local level than they are in Washington.”

The hobbled EPA would then just be responsible for “mediating between interstate disputes and compacts where you’ve got bodies of land and water that go over multiple state lines, but leave the rest at the state level.”

Gutting, or eliminating, the EPA is not a new idea for conservative politicians looking to make a splash at the national level. During the 2012 GOP nomination fight, Michele Bachmann said Congress should “repeal” the EPA, suggesting it be “renamed the job-killing organization of America.”

The prospect of 50 states setting 50 different sets of environmental rules and standards would make it extremely complex to do business in America with any sort of basic compliance. And it’s not hard to imagine what some states could do if they took over for the EPA — last year a bill to opt out of all EPA regulations passed an Idaho House committee.

Walker has recently fought the EPA on its proposed rule to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants, saying in a recent letter to President Obama that it is “unworkable.”

“The proposed rule is riddled with inaccuracies, questionable assumptions and deficiencies that make the development of a responsible state plan unworkable for Wisconsin,” Walker said in the letter, dated May 21, according to reporting last week by the AP and the Washington Examiner.

The Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule provides states with the flexibility to craft their own plans to reduce carbon emissions from the electric power sector. Those plans altogether would have to meet the national goal of a 30 percent drop in carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030 from 2005 levels. It’s the result of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act if they endanger public health. Each state would have a broad menu of carbon-cutting options, including energy efficiency improvements, adding clean energy, implementing a carbon tax, joining a cap-and-trade system, or instituting their own.

According to the letter, Wisconsin’s state government will not comply with President Obama’s plan to tackle climate change without “significant and meaningful changes.”

Walker’s main argument is economic: that if Wisconsin were required to lower its electricity sector carbon emissions, rates would go up, the electric grid would become unreliable, and jobs would be lost. Back in December of last year, Walker submitted comments to the EPA in opposition to the rule, saying it “would be a blow to Wisconsin residents and business owners.”

A statement from the EPA noted in response that the Clean Power Plan was constructed “to establish public health goals while providing states important flexibility to design plans to meet their individual and unique needs.”

Experts also disagree with Walker’s arguments, with economists like Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, saying that “it’s just very hard to see a story for how costs would skyrocket or what would cause that.” The rule will help create a lot of jobs as well. A recent study, contradicting previous industry analyses, found that the proposed rule would create 273,000 jobs by 2040. And federal energy regulators have said that the risk to grid reliability posed by the carbon rule would be “manageable.”

It would also prevent 3,500 premature deaths per year according to a recent study, because it would cut coal power plant emissions, which contain other harmful pollutants. In reality, the administration’s proposed rule is actually very moderate — 11 senators told the EPA last December that its rule could cut emissions even further with a negligible impact on the economy.

The other main argument is legal in nature. Walker’s most recent letter says the state has identified “several legal concerns that we believe must be remedied in the final rule.” Prior to this, Walker was one of 15 governors of Republican, coal-dependent states to sign a letter to President Obama saying that they believed the Clean Power Plan is illegal. However the idea to use the Clean Air Act to cut carbon pollution has passed legal scrutiny before — the EPA is required to regulate CO2 if it finds that it endangers public health, which it has.

It’s not just carbon pollution that has the Walker administration opposing the EPA — local environmental groups sued the state’s Department of Natural Resources last year for failing to comply with EPA regulations for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and soot.

Many Wisconsin businesses support the Clean Power Plan in spite of Walker’s opposition.

“The business community should speak up in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan,” wrote Lori Compas, executive director of the Wisconsin Business Alliance, in an October op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

She pointed to the solar industry in Iowa and the renewable manufacturing sector in Michigan. “But while other Midwestern states are forging ahead, Wisconsin recently has rolled back renewable energy goals and allowed monopolies and outdated regulations to hamper the growth of the renewable energy sector.”

“We should look for opportunities to promote jobs and the environment — and the Clean Power Plan is a great way to do that,” she said.

Walker appointed Ellen Nowak as the chairwoman of Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission, and she told the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee in March that that the administration questioned “the very foundation of this proposal.” When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) pushed her to answer whether environmental costs due to climate change would enter into her analysis of the rule, she said “there is a balance that needs to be struck.” Sen. Whitehouse asked how that balance could be struck “if you don’t know whether climate change is happening and whether human activity plays a huge role.”

That disagreement over whether climate change is happening is particularly stark in Wisconsin, where a state board that oversees public lands banned staff from even talking about global warming. This left workers unable to discuss how climate change might affect lands they help oversee. The new Republican State Treasurer Matt Adamcyzk joined the board upon his recent election and almost immediately began feuding with the board’s executive secretary, Tia Nelson, who had once served on former Gov. Jim Doyle’s global warming task force. Adamcyzk also pushed to scrub references to global warming from the board’s website, along with unsubscribing from the New York Times.