EPA chief Lisa Jackson perpetually on Capitol Hill hot seat
As the Obama administration's point person for environmental regulations, Jackson received her seventh grilling on Capitol Hill this month, more than any other federal agency director has faced, according to committee and agency staffs.
At Friday's joint hearing of two House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittees, Jackson addressed familiar questions, most of them from Republican lawmakers. How would you describe carbon? "As black carbon soot," Jackson answered in part. Is the EPA reviewing farms and particulate-matter pollution that can be kicked up in dust? Not really, Jackson said. "EPA recognizes that dust happens."
House Republicans have been challenging the EPA administrator on whether carbon is a pollutant, in hearings aimed at cutting the agency's budget and curbing its ability to regulate greenhouse gases. They say the EPA proposed greenhouse gas and other regulations without determining the extent of costs and job losses in manufacturing.
The objections also amount to a challenge of a Supreme Court ruling nearly four years ago that rebuked the Bush administration for failing to do what the EPA is now attempting.
In that case, Massachusetts v. EPA, the Bush administration claimed that it lacked the authority under the Clean Air Act to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles endangered public health, and declared that it would not do so for economic reasons, even if it had the authority.
The court ruled 5 to 4 against the administration in April 2007, saying the EPA not only had that authority under the Clean Air Act but also was obligated to base its reason for not studying greenhouse gas pollutants solely on science, not economic concerns.
After the Obama administration announced plans to regulate the largest greenhouse gas polluters, House Republicans drafted and passed a bill that would eliminate nearly a third of the EPA's $9 billion budget - the largest percentage cut of any federal agency and the deepest EPA budget cut in 30 years, according to records at the Office of Management and Budget.
In the unlikely event that it passed both houses of Congress, the measure could overturn the agency's plan to reduce pollution under the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Senate Democrats have vowed that it will not.
"I was in EPA for 20 years. I've never seen anything quite like this," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Claussen's complaint echoed those of Democrats such as Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who has invoked the court decision while supporting the EPA and Jackson in budget hearings and said that "Republicans have launched a breathtaking attack on public health on behalf of the biggest polluters in America."
"The Congress can always strip an agency of the power that it gave them," said Jody Freeman, founding director of the Harvard Law School Environmental Law and Policy Program.