The end of the EPA as we know it.
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.
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