With comprehensive climate legislation all but dead in Congress for the next few years, the Obama Administration will likely lead the federal effort for addressing climate change and its impacts. This effort, however, could be partly or wholly undone by congressional members who believe that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no business regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act (CAA), and to allow the EPA to do so would only have negative implications to the economy.
Such was the case earlier this year when Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) offered a “resolution of disapproval” before the Senate floor in order to overturn EPA’s endangerment finding on carbon pollution which would have subsequently put a stop to the regulation of GHG emissions altogether. Indications of a similar attack on the Agency’s ability to regulate such emissions is rearing its head in the House of Representatives that if successful, would not only affect how GHG emissions are addressed in the future, but also how other air pollutants would be handled by the EPA.
At issue is an October 14th letter sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson by House members Joe Barton (R-TX) and Michael Burgess (R-TX) regarding the increasing costs to the economy as a result of the growing number of Agency regulations, including those focused on GHG emissions, that are being proposed by the Agency under the CAA, with some of these regulations exceeding an annual cost of $1 billion. Specifically, Barton and Burgess are concerned with the “highly accelerated pace at which EPA is issuing complex and expensive regulatory proposals” under the Act.
To get even deeper into the weeds, the congressmen are most concerned with regulatory proposals exceeding $100 million annually, the monetary threshold above which the federal government considers a regulation to be “economically significant.” These are also the type of regulations identified in the House Republicans’ “Pledge to America” that would require an affirmative vote by Congress before such regulations could be implemented, that’s if this party became the majority.
To get a better handle on CAA regulations, both current and prospective, Barton and Burgess included a 50-page chart with the letter that they sent to Administrator Jackson, identifying approximately 40 proposed or final CAA regulations, along with other regulatory proposals under the Act as well as a number of regulations in their pre-proposal stages. Represented in these charts are not only GHG regulations like EPA’s Tailoring Rule and GHG standards for light-duty vehicles, but a number of regulations associated with criteria pollutants such as those accounted for under the Clean Air Interstate Rule. In reference to this chart, the congressmen are asking Jackson for answers to the following questions:
- Are the EPA compliance cost estimates included in chart accurate? If not, the Agency needs to provide updated numbers for those cost estimates considered inaccurate;
- Are there additional pending CAA regulations not included in the chart that EPA estimates will impose annual compliance costs of $100 million? If yes, these need to be identified along with a Federal Register docket number; and
- Are there any additional CAA regulations not included in the chart that the Agency is currently considering initiating? If yes, these need to be identified along with any new compliance costs imposed, particularly those with costs exceeding $100 million annually.
Although the questions are succinct enough, the letter and 50-page charge communicates another message that should be of importance to Indian Tribes, namely that any resources which might have been forthcoming to such Tribes in their efforts to address climate change and air pollution in general may not come to fruition – i.e., current and prospective grants could essentially dry up and disappear. Typically, one would probably not pay much heed to the inquiry by Barton and Burgess with them being in the minority party, but a number of political pundits believe that this minority will soon become the majority when the dust settles after the November congressional elections. Hence, someone like Barton who will more than likely become the chairman of the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee which has primary congressional jurisdiction over the EPA, could require the Agency to defend its regulatory actions and frankly any of its activities before congressional committee hearings. Furthermore, Barton’s colleagues on the Appropriations Committee could serve a major roadblock for funding the implementation of Agency regulations and any other EPA-related activities.
So what are Indian Tribes to do? Certainly, they are going to have to be more creative in their proposals to the EPA, meaning that Tribal Representative and Leaders are going to have to sit down with Agency staff to discern ways to preserve some of the resources and commitments that Tribes have fought so hard to obtain from the EPA. In addition, Tribal budget requests to the Agency by such entities as the National Tribal Air Association, National Tribal Environmental Council and National Tribal Operations Committee are going to have be more well thought out than ever before, understanding that the recent gains in funding seen by Tribes for such items as the General Assistance Program, and State and Tribal Air Grants could disappear as quickly. Nothing can be taken for granted, hence Tribes would be wise to be proactive to the ongoing changes as a result of the November elections as opposed to being reactive and hoping for the best in the long run. Time is of the essence, however, hence the latter approach is probably the least wise for Tribes to pursue.
To the read letter sent to Administrator Jackson by Congressmen Barton and Burgess, go to
To read the 50-page chart developed by Barton and Burgess, go to