Oversight of the Climate Action Plan
The President's plan, which commits to a "coordinated assault on a changing climate," builds on the ongoing activities of many federal agencies and the work of the Interagency Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (ICCATF) that has been chaired by the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As the Committee with jurisdiction over much of this, it makes perfect sense for EPW to conduct appropriate oversight and hold a hearing on the CAP.
Oversight of CAP is absolutely necessary, as it has every area of the federal government working towards its goal of justifying a carbon-constrained economy. CAP is sweeping in breadth and scope of the actions to be undertaken, and it, along with Executive Orders following President Obama's announcement, include multiple new Agency actions that have not come under appropriate scrutiny by Congress. Most notably, the EPW Committee Republicans want updates from the Administration on the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC) and New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The American people have been kept in the dark regarding the tsunami of regulatory actions, especially the CAP, which could have negative impacts on employment, job creation, and our national debt. The Administration appears to be mimicking the failed policies of other countries, including some of the world's largest carbon emitters. In March, Sen. Vitter introduced legislation to prohibit the regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. unless and until China, India and Russia implement similar reductions.
Ahead of the EPW Committee hearing on climate change in July, EPW Republicans requested that Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) include federal witnesses to testify who would be able to explain the President's CAP. The request was denied, and no federal witnesses were invited. In conjunction with the hearing, EPW Republican staff released a report entitled, "Critical Thinking on Climate Change: Questions to Consider Before Taking Regulatory Action and Implementing Economic Policies."
Executive Orders: Rush Through New Layers of Red Tape
The Administration has endorsed a top-down method of regulation without appropriate State involvement, which showcases its overreaching regulatory agenda and disregard for cooperative federalism in an effort to centrally plan our economy from Washington. Cooperative federalism says that the federal government and individual States should work together to control air pollution and improve air quality. In an effort to cut the States out, the President issued a number of Executive Orders in the days following his June announcement of the CAP.
On June 25, the White House issued a memo for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, instructing the Agency to craft power sector carbon pollution standards in the form of a NSPS proposal for new gas- and coal-fired power plants that would be due September 20, thus marking the first step of the President's CAP. EPA's proposal, which replaced its April 2012 proposal, limited greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants and required adoption of a cost-prohibitive carbon capture and sequestration technology that is unavailable at a commercial scale, effectively prohibiting new coal-fired plants from being built.
EPW Republicans published a report entitled, "Neglecting a Cornerstone Principle of the Clean Air Act: President Obama's EPA Leaves States Behind." that chronicles the Administration's growing failure to adhere to the federal-State interaction mandated by the Clean Air Act (CAA).
Social Cost of Carbon - Working Behind Closed Doors
One particularly critical piece needed to move forward with the President's CAP is the Social Cost of Carbon (SCC), which is used to justify costly and controversial regulations. However, the specific participants involved in developing the SCC estimates have been kept anonymous and hidden from the public. The higher the SCC estimate, the more benefits the Administration can attribute to costly environmental regulations and standards. The estimate will be used to evaluate the costs and benefits of new climate policy and as a justification of implementing such policy.
The Administration uses the SCC estimate in cost-benefit analyses to establish new rules. Earlier this year, the higher figure for the SCC was used in calculating the benefits of a new energy efficiency standard for microwave ovens, which could make the household appliance less efficient and more expensive.
An increase in the SCC estimate could also create a path toward a carbon tax, similar to the one introduced by Chairman Boxer and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). The Congressional Budget Office stated that low-income households would bear the burden of a carbon tax disproportionately and that "a tax of $20 per ton of emissions would raise the price of gasoline by about 20 cents per gallon," specifically referring to the legislation from Boxer and Sanders.
In June, Vitter lead seven Senators in a letter to the EPA, Department of Energy (DOE), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), challenging the lack of transparency and openness in revising the Administration's SCC estimate. In September, the Senators followed up with Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator, regarding the Agency's involvement in the development and ultimate use of SCC estimates in current and upcoming energy-related rules.
In November, Vitter pressed Sarah Dunham, Director of the Office of Atmospheric Programs within the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, for substantial answers on the Agency's involvement in the SCC revision process. During questioning, Ms. Dunham admitted that her office assisted the Interagency Working Group, providing technical analysis and modeling for developing the SCC estimates. The next week, Vitter requested the names of the members of the anonymous Interagency Working Group and how their estimates are used to justify the benefits of Agency rulemaking. EPA has not yet responded.
Choosing Sound Science over Political Agendas
In September, the AP reported that the Obama Administration lobbied to downplay the importance of the 15-year hiatus in global temperature increases in the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Vitter and Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), sent a letter to Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the U.S. State Department, regarding his involvement with any political manipulations of the report.
The Senators followed up with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in November, asking whether she was aware that the IPCC report was not going to support the statements of President Obama when she testified in April that the IPCC would, in fact, be able to do so. Both the State Department and EPA have been silent on the subject.
Vitter and EPW Republicans have been vocal advocates for the Administration's use of sound science that is independently verified when creating new rules and regulations. However, on a number of occasions, the Administration has been caught using less-than-legitimate numbers and controversial scientific studies to advance their political agenda.
The bottom line is this: Chairman Boxer needs to hold a climate hearing in the EPW Committee with witnesses from the federal agencies so the Committee is able to fulfill their necessary oversight obligation.
EPW Republicans will be sending out additional documents recapping the Committee's work during 2013 on various issues. Stay tuned for more in the coming days.