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Republicans Are Trying To Undermine the EPA

Republican Senators Jeff Flake (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced legislation yesterday attempting to limit the EPA’s regulatory ability by restricting its spending. Last Friday, the agency rolled out new rules regarding the carbon dioxide emissions of new coal- and gas-fired plants. New gas plants will all likely be able to comply with the rules relatively easily due to existing technology. Coal-fired plants, however, will almost certainly be unable to comply with the new rules. That’s why Republicans immediately criticized the President for waging a “war on coal.” And as Slate’s Matt Yglesias notes, they’re right! That doesn’t mean that Obama shouldn’t be waging the war. On the contrary, he has to wage it, because Republicans won’t consider any legislation that will force companies to internalize the costs of their emissions. Those costs are a negative externality on the economy that the entire country pays for. Cap-and-trade or a carbon tax are both solutions to that market failure, but neither has a chance to pass Congress. So Obama and the EPA have taken it upon themselves to wage this war outside the realm of Congress.

Not surprisingly, Republicans don’t like that. Flake and his co-sponsors are attempting to fight back against the Administration by limiting the EPA’s regulatory power. Here’s the text of their bill:

A bill to require the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to include in any proposed rule that limits greenhouse gas emissions and imposes increased costs on other Federal agencies an offset from funds available to the Administrator for all projected increased costs that the proposed rule would impose on other Federal agencies.

Got that? Me neither. In layman’s terms, the EPA’s new rule will increase the compliance and supervision costs of other federal agencies. Those agencies simply have more work to do. Flake et al. want the EPA to offset those costs within the EPA’s own budget. 

A positive way at looking at this bill is that Republicans are so worried about other federal agencies’ ability to enforce limits on greenhouse gas emissions that they want the EPA to fund those additional regulatory costs. However, this is certainly not the case. Instead, Republicans are looking to slow down the rule-making progress and take money from other parts of the EPA’s budget.

Other agencies have their own budgets that they must work within and it’s not the EPA’s responsibility to cover the costs of additional regulation for them. When all of these agencies submit budget requests in the upcoming year, they will factor in the additional costs of implementing rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions. They will ask for larger budgets. This bill is trying to limit those budgets and force the EPA to choose between using its funds for rules on greenhouse gas emissions or use them on other regulatory issues. None of the co-sponsors care where the EPA would take the offsetting funds from. It doesn’t matter to them, because the entire goal is to undermine the agency.

Luckily, Democrats will never allow this bill to get far and it doesn’t have a chance to become law. But it’s yet another case where Republicans are attempting to use any legislative tactic to hamper federal agencies, without regard to what the agencies are actually doing.

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