House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday on a bill to strip the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Republicans nearly unanimously oppose letting the EPA address the threat of global warming, even though the Supreme Court ordered the EPA to regulate carbon pollution, but some conservatives want to go even further.
Despite the EPA’s widespread popularity, a number of conservative leaders and Republicans in Congress, led by GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, are pushing to dismantle the entire agency. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL) told ThinkProgress the EPA “ought to be scrapped.” Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) agreed, vowing the “we’re going to fight like heck” to get rid of the EPA. “Even if we can’t totally eliminate them,” Rep. Rich Nugent (R-FL) argued, “we can certainly curtail their power through oversight.”
However, the EPA recently found an unlikely defender: Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX).
In an interview with ThinkProgress, Barton refused to join Gingrich and those House Republicans seeking to dismantle the EPA. Barton declared he is “not one that wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.” In fact, his defense of the agency was both eloquent and accurate: “There are some issues that cross state boundaries. […] We need safe drinking water and clean air. Those are interstate commerce issues that do require a federal agency”:
KEYES: One issue I know you’ve been a leader on and you mentioned in your speech was taking a look at some of these agencies, including the EPA. Would you like to see the EPA eventually rolled back and possibly dismantled, sent back to be able to have state regulations instead?
BARTON: There are some issues that cross state boundaries. I’m not one that wants to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency. We need safe drinking water and clean air. Those are interstate commerce issues that do require a federal agency. Having said that, that agency should work within the law. They should enforce laws that Congress passes, not create regulations literally out of thin air.
KEYES: That puts you on the opposite side though of people like Newt Gingrich, Congressmen Joe Walsh and Pete Olson, who have said we really don’t need the EPA anymore.
BARTON: I don’t want to get into a dispute with my friends. I want an Environmental Protection Agency that’s constitutional and within the law. There are some things that markets can’t do and there are some things that states can’t do. You need an EPA. But it needs to be an EPA that recognizes its role and lives within the statutes that Congress passes.
To be sure, Barton is no environmentalist. In fact, his history on environmental issues is shameful. During the major Gulf Coast oil spill last year, Barton apologized to BP for the $20 billion damages escrow fund, calling it a “shakedown” and a “tragedy.” His record on climate change is no better. He said global warming is just “natural variation” and called it a “net benefit to mankind.” In addition, Barton declared that we shouldn’t regulate carbon dioxide, a principal greenhouse gas, because “it’s in your Coca-Cola” and “you can’t regulate God.”
That even an environmental extremist like Barton can eloquently and forcefully defend the need for the Environmental Protection Agency undercuts the push by Gingrich and right-wing House Republicans to eliminate the EPA.
In a letter to the Wall Street Journal last December, a constellation of leading energy company executives write, “Contrary to the claims that the EPA’s agenda will have negative economic consequences, our companies’ experience complying with air quality regulations demonstrates that regulations can yield important economic benefits, including job creation, while maintaining reliability.”