GOP Passes Bill Dems Say |Will ‘Gut Clean Air Act’

     WASHINGTON (CN) – Sidestepping protests from Democrats that their efforts would “gut the Clean Air Act,” GOP lawmakers capitalized on their majority Wednesday to delay ozone limitations by eight years, or two presidential cycles.
     New ozone regulations took effect back in December, but Republicans have been pushing the Ozone Standards Implementation Act of 2016 to give states an eight-year extension on compliance. The House Rules Committee passed the bill down partisan lines this afternoon, 230-163.
     Without the Ozone Standards Implementation Act, states would have to comply with the 2008 standards by next year. The deadline prompted nine red states this past April to call it “impossible” for the Environmental Protection Agency to expect that they will meet the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standard for ozone, down from 75 to 70 parts per billion.
     At a hearing on the bill Tuesday, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., had called the Ozone Standards Implementation Act irresponsible.
     “Unfortunately House Bill 4775 is a radical attempt to gut the Clean Air Act,” she said.
     Her Republican counterpart, Rep. Ed Whitfield, disagreed.
     The Kentucky congressman testified that the bill will give states the time they need to meet the EPA’s ozone requirements, and will authorize the agency’s administrator to consider whether it is technologically feasible to meet those standards.
     Right now states are required to include economically infeasible methods of implementation, he said.
     “We’re simply saying you don’t have to do that anymore,” Whitfield added.
     Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, agreed when Whitfield said a lack of guidance is what hurt states when it came to complying with the EPA’s 2008 ozone standards.
     “The EPA has done a terrible job of implementing and properly scheduling new ozone standards,” said Sessions, who chairs the committee.
     Sessions blasted the agency for not allowing enough time before “lopping on” additional requirements, but Castor warned that delayed implementation would roll back decades of progress.
     Polluters should not be allowed to override science, Castor said, cautioning against an era of basing air-quality standards on industry profits instead of health.
     The bill “virtually guarantees that the public will never know if the air they breathe is safe,” Castor said.
     Castor noted that another provision of the bill will change how the EPA reviews criteria pollutant standards.
     The current law requires the agency simply to review the science every five years, not necessarily to act, but the bill would push such reviews to every 10 years.
     “They’re saying it’s OK to ignore the science in America, and I know you all don’t believe that,” Castor said.
     Today’s meeting of the Rules Committee also featured debate on resolutions opposing a carbon tax and a $10 tax on every barrel of oil. The resolutions say both taxes would hurt the U.S. economy.
     “I believe that the American public does not need what would be not only new taxes but higher fuel costs, and it will surely be passed on at the pump, which means that families, businesses and the American public would be paying more and more money at a time when it’s unwarranted,” Sessions said.
     Testifying before the committee, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., called the taxes “transparent grabs for revenue.” He said the taxes would hit the most vulnerable populations the hardest with rising prices, and will stifle American competitiveness.
     “American energy producers have moved us to an era of abundance,” Boustany said. “They have flipped everything. And now the Saudis and the Iranians – the Russians – are fearful of what American technology and American innovation can do. And what does this president do? He puts a political statement in his budget to tax it, and to stifle American competitiveness both on the energy sector and the export side. It’s just unconscionable.”
     Boustany’s counterpart, Rep. Sandy Levin, D-Mich., chastised the committee and Congress for wasting time with “sense of Congress resolutions.”
     “These resolutions epitomize what’s going on here. There’s real work to be done and under the leadership of the majority here it isn’t being done,” he said.
     Levin diverted from the content of the resolutions and expressed concern about what he said are more pressing issues, like funding efforts to combat the Zika virus and drafting legislation to combat climate change.
     “I think what is real is climate change,” Levin said. “And there are too many of you in the majority here who are in denial.”
     Levin also called Congress “reckless” on dealing with Zika, positing that current funding efforts fall far short of what is needed to develop a vaccine.
     “We’re going to take up two sense-of-Congress resolutions when we have all of this undone business that is real,” he said. “How about doing work?”

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