EPA refuses to testify before key House oversight panel
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is refusing to send a witness Tuesday to testify before a key House oversight panel that’s investigating the agency’s efforts to undo one of the Obama administration’s most successful anti-pollution rules.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations panel, which oversees the EPA, will be holding a hearing Tuesday to review the agency’s efforts to undermine a 2012 Obama-era rule that limited mercury emissions, and other important pollutants, from coal-powered power plants.
The panel, led by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), is particularly concerned not only with the agency’s efforts to undermine the mercury rule, but also with the agency’s attempts to establish a new precedent that would prevent regulators from considering the full range of public health benefits of any newly proposed regulations going forward.
“The EPA is supposed to be working for the American people,” DeGette said. “If it’s going to ignore how a new rule would benefit public health going forward, then our committee – which is charged with overseeing the EPA – has serious questions as to whether it would still be acting in the public’s best interest.”
When it initially enacted the rule to cut mercury emissions, Obama’s EPA determined that its benefit to public health outweighed the $9.6 billion it estimated that it would cost the industry to comply with the new standard.
With the benefits outweighing the costs, EPA officials under the Obama administration determined it was “appropriate and necessary” – a key test under the Clean Air Act – for the agency to regulate emissions from the plants in order to protect public health.
But now, that same agency under control of the Trump administration is arguing the exact opposite – and, that it is not “appropriate and necessary” for the EPA to consider the full range of potential public health benefits when deciding whether to enact a new regulation.
If approved, the agency’s proposal would not only undo the Obama-era mercury rule, it would also establish a new precedent that would prevent EPA regulators from considering the full range of public health benefits that a new rule would have when weighing the pros and cons of future regulations.
Mercury is a highly toxic metal that has been linked to a host of health problems – including damage caused to the brains of young children and fetuses – and coal-powered power plants are the nation’s biggest emitter of the toxin. After it's emitted into the air, mercury eventually settles into surrounding water where its gets into fish and later absorbed by people who eat them, which is why many pregnant women in the U.S. are discouraged from eating fish.
Since the Obama-era rule was put into effect, mercury emissions from U.S. coal plants have reduced by 90%.
Interestingly, among those opposed to the Trump administration’s attempts to undo the mercury rule is the power industry itself, which supports keeping the Obama-era rule largely because it’s already spent billions of dollars to upgrade its technology and to comply with the new standards.
While the EPA is refusing to send a representative to explain the agency’s actions, the former head of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, Janet McCabe, will be testifying at Tuesday’s hearing.
The hearing will begin at 10:00 a.m. ET in room 2322 of the Rayburn House Office building. It will also be streamed LIVE online at the following link: https://bit.ly/2VOIt3z.
Following are the details for the hearing:
Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Chaired by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)
Hearing on the EPA’s attempts to undo Obama-era Mercury Rule
Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2019
Time: 10:00 a.m. ET / 8:00 a.m. MT
Location: 2322 Rayburn House Office building
WATCH LIVE: The hearing will be streamed online LIVE at the following link: https://bit.ly/2VOIt3z
- Philip Landrigan, M.D., M.Sc., Director, Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory, Boston College
- Michael Livermore, Associate Professor of Law, University of Virginia
- Janet McCabe, Former Acting Assistant Administrator Office of Air and Radiation, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Noelle Eckley Selin, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Heather McTeer Toney, National Field Director, Moms Clean Air Force
- Adam R.F. Gustafson, Partner, Boyden Gray & Associates PLLC