Features

January/ February 2012 The Environment

The end of the EPA as we know it.

By David Roberts

It’s difficult to overstate how radical a change this would represent for U.S. government. It would subject fifty to a hundred regulations a year to the partisanship, rancor, and gridlock of Congress. Every rule would be a new opportunity for lobbying and industry influence. Worse, legal observers say the bill does not clearly prohibit a filibuster in the Senate, raising the possibility that a determined minority of forty senators could effectively shut down federal rule making. REINS would not overturn the Clean Air Act or shutter the EPA, but it would end forward momentum in environmental law, freezing it in place. Green drift would end for good.

It might sound like something out of the far-right fringe, but the TRAIN Act passed the House by a vote of 249 to 169—out of 234 Republican votes, 230 were in favor. The Senate has not voted on TRAIN yet, but it has voted on bills that include REINS twice, once garnering forty-seven votes for it, once forty. Crippling the EPA is now a consensus objective in the mainstream of the Republican Party.

So far, the Democratic Senate has prevented the House’s anti-environment votes from becoming laws. But if the economy continues to sputter and Republicans have a 2010-style sweep year, says analyst Nate Silver, “it’s within the realm of possibility that they could gain a net of thirteen seats.” That would give them a majority large enough to override filibusters. (Given the number of Democrats who have demonstrated willingness to vote against clean air protections, they might even have four or five votes to spare.)

Should that happen, a Republican Congress would almost certainly pass the TRAIN Act, the REINS Act, and bills blocking new EPA rules on ozone, mercury, and carbon dioxide. That would leave the fate of the Clean Air Act—indeed, the fate of the entire environmental regulatory apparatus— in the hands of the president.

Obama has said he would veto these bills. Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich would not. What would Mitt Romney do? As Massachusetts governor, he passed strict new clean air standards and proclaimed boldly that “I will not protect jobs that kill people.” Is there any of that Romney left? Or will he go with the anti-environmental flow of the national Republican Party?

America’s environmental laws have faced threats before. But depending for survival on the tensile strength of Mitt Romney’s integrity? That would be a precarious position indeed.

[Return to What if Obama Loses: Imagining the consequences of a GOP victory]

David Roberts is a senior staff writer at Grist.org, where he covers energy policy and politics.

Comments

  • lou on January 05, 2012 9:39 AM:

    "Or will he go with the anti-environmental flow of the national Republican Party?"

    Does anyone really need to ask? He has stated flat out that he would eliminate any EPA regulations impeding oil and gas drilling. Why stop with oil and gas?

    And Romney, due his Mormon faith rewards, is getting his own sparkling new planet, post last breath, so why the hell should he care about the air and water on this one?

    Romney and these Republicans represent an alien, evil seed on this planet, money diggers to the core.

  • Peter on January 05, 2012 11:27 AM:

    Sounds like democracy. Something progressives pretend to like.

  • William Teach on January 05, 2012 12:07 PM:

    No, the EPA will not be gone, nor will the GOP gut clean air, water, and land regulations. They will reign in the EPA, particularly when it comes to greenhouse gas regulations, and some job killing regulations.

    Don't get too hysterical, David.

  • Robert on January 25, 2012 11:48 AM:

    So "William" we should not believe the Rethuglican presidential wannabes because they are liars? What apologetic nonsense. When they act like fools and knaves calling them fools and knaves is not'hysterical' it is simple truth. You need to look in the mirror and figure out why you are lying to us or maybe to yourself for this collection of losers.

  • emjayay on January 31, 2012 9:11 AM:

    I just heard a Gingrich supporter on NPR saying he's voting for Newt because he'll "get rid of ridiculous agencies like the EPA." This guy will no doubt vote for Mitt in the presidential election, and represents a huge number of Republican voters, and Mitt will do anything that a lot of Republicans want.

    How can people be so small minded, short sighted, ignorant, and stupid? Well, a lot of Americans are.

  • Bill on January 31, 2012 9:17 AM:

    I am a state regulatory employee. I have seen the advance of what I read as either a radical environmentalist federal agenda, a disfunctional federal regulatory culture, or a combination of both. Federal environmental enforcement personnel have seemed to me to be rule bound, in effect, out of touch with environmental reality and the consequences of their actions. Much of the policy I have seen being implemented under this administration is to impose costly and burdensome monitoring, record keeping, and reporting requirements that don't do anything but increase costs and impede capital. My liberal colleagues protest that Obama didn't cause this problem; that because of the laws, "environmental activists" are using the courts to impose draconian adherence to the letter of the law. My experience is that I think laws and regulations have a high incidence of producing unintended consequences. Therefore, there should be periodic sunset provisions and input should be gathered from the folks with their real noses in the real stuff on the ground. As it is, "green drift" is real and this article adds a lot of understanding. The feds need to have the ability to use discretion; it's time to get back to the drawing board and save the "Empire". It'll take a "Newt" to do it though. May the "Force" be with us.

  • David N on February 02, 2012 5:05 PM:

    I am a chemical engineer and I work in the oil, gas, and chemical industry. I also did my graduate thesis on computer modeling. Much of the global warming modeling is based upon work I did a generation ago. I have used modeling in my work and still do.

    First, modeling is very limited in its application. We model relatively simple systems with maybe four or five components. The idea of using it to model an atmosphere with its dozens of components and side reactions is not one I would have any confidence in. Secondly, it is obvious that the modeling is not working because every five years they go back and try to redo the model because it doesn't fit observations. Thirdly, trying to determine policy based upon that is a fantasy. It is no wonder that the results are so unpopular.

    The consequences of the EPA action to reduce carbon usage is to put a cap on the US economy. This is disasterous. It leads to poverty and all the ills that come with it. If Obama wants to push this he can, but he will feel a backlash.

  • Herbal Infusion Bagger on February 03, 2012 4:10 PM:

    "I am a chemical engineer and I work in the oil, gas, and chemical industry. I also did my graduate thesis on computer modeling. "

    "Much of the global warming modeling is based upon work I did a generation ago."

    I'm a ChemE, also have worked estensively on computer modeling, and I call BS. There's a world of difference between 2-D and 3-D GCMs and the zero-dimensional unit operation simulations developed by the chemical industry.

    What else do you want to mislead us on?

    "that the modeling is not working because every five years they go back and try to redo the model because it doesn't fit observations."

    Again, bollocks. Refinements to model accuracy haven't changed the directional prediction of increasing temperatures. Plus, the estimates of the sensitivity of the

    "The consequences of the EPA action to reduce carbon usage is to put a cap on the US economy."

    Ah bollocks again. You can do CO2 capture on point-sources for about $50/tonne CO2, equivalent to 50 cents on a gallon of gas. We've endured similar swings in energy prices without the economy tanking. We're not in the 1970s anymore where the energy intensity of each dollar of GDP made us so susceptible to oil prices. Certain sectors of the economy will do badly if we price carbon, but they're not a big part of GDP and their self-interest in persisting to get a free ride on a negative externality isn't an excuse to take huge risk on the future of the climate.