The head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday criticized a bill drafted by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saying it would strip the agency of its ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The committee's proposed Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011 would "eliminate portions of the Clean Air Act, the landmark law that all American children and adults rely on to protect them from harmful air pollution," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson told a packed committee hearing.
"This bill appears to be part of a broader effort in this Congress to delay, weaken or eliminate Clean Air Act protections of the American public," she added.
Jackson's aggressive defense of the EPA's role in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions, which most scientists link to global warming, seemed for the moment to allay concern among environmentalists and many Democrats that the Obama administration would seek compromises on pollution regulation in order to win over a disgruntled business community.
Jackson is unlikely to sway Republicans who have vowed to reduce regulation in general. The Republican leadership of the committee originally did not invite her to participate in the hearing. All the witnesses hailed from industry and GOP-friendly state agencies. Jackson was added at the insistence of the Democratic minority.
The hearing offered glimpses of the arguments each side will use to push its agenda. The EPA emphasized the threat that greenhouse gases posed to public health, shifting away from the global warming controversy in an effort to appeal to the public and some congressional moderates.
For its part, the GOP dismissed climate change as a hoax and portrayed the EPA as an overreaching job killer, oblivious to the economic fallout of its regulatory decisions.
"These regulations go after emissions of carbon dioxide — the unavoidable byproduct of using the coal, oil and natural gas that provides this nation with 85% of its energy use," said committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).
Fossil fuels, he said, are "the most affordable choice. EPA regulators seek to take away that choice by making use of these fuels prohibitively expensive."
Upton introduced draft legislation last week that would take away the agency's ability to regulate greenhouse emissions.
Pushed by a 2007 Supreme Court decision and based on a review of climate research, the EPA issued an endangerment finding, holding that greenhouse gases threatened public health, and therefore were subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.
Upton's draft bill would abrogate the endangerment finding, which would be the first time Congress overturned a scientific finding, according to Jackson and Democrats on the House panel.
The bill would also deny the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gases in the future or to pursue research on the issue.