WASHINGTON—Gargantuan hammers seemed to be the tool of choice for House Republicans at a congressional hearing about the reach of the Clean Air Act. So it's little wonder that the looked like an enormous nail.
Ostensibly, members of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power gathered Wednesday to discuss the merits of a draft bill designed to stifle the EPA's efforts to curtail heat-trapping gases.
However, it didn't take long until the back-and-forth exchanges in the first Republican-led, EPA-related hearing of the 112th Congress began resembling an act from the theater of the absurd.
For instance, GOP representatives peppered their first witness, Sen. Jim Inhofe, with questions about the science of global warming. Not only is the Oklahoma Republican the Senate's most outspoken climate change denier, but he also trained as an economist and is on the verge of releasing a book titled "The Hoax."
Ironically, they saved their queries about economics for the second witness — EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the only scientist among the 15 witnesses in the lineup during the tense, hours-long event.
Jackson bore the brunt of the Republicans' venting as they questioned the validity of the 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court case. They doubted that the ruling gave the agency authority to regulate carbon emissions, and blamed the ensuing endangerment finding for ruining the economy, killing jobs, raising food prices and lowering the nation's standard of living.
Brief History of Bill in Question
Inhofe helped to ignite the need for a hearing by pairing up with Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan on the draft measure called the "." Upton is the new chair of the , while Inhofe is ranking member of the .
Upton maintains his bill does not gut the Clean Air Act, just restores it to its intended purpose of regulating criterion pollutants, such as ozone, particulate matter and lead.
"Cap and trade failed in the last Congress, but now we face the threat of Environmental Protection Agency bureaucrats imposing the same agenda through a series of regulations," Upton said.
"Like cap and trade, these regulations would boost the cost of energy, not just for homeowners and car owners, but for businesses both large and small. EPA may be starting by regulating only the largest power plants and factories, but we will all feel the impact of higher prices and fewer jobs."
Democrats beg to differ with that assessment. A circulated by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, ranking member of the full committee, lays out 10 specific ways the bill would handcuff EPA. For example, it would overturn not only the Massachusetts v. EPA decision but also EPA's 2009 scientific determination that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health and the environment.
In addition to threatening the renewable fuel standard, Waxman said, it would repeal California’s authority to regulate vehicle emissions, hamper EPA's efforts to offer amendments to the Montreal Protocol, and prohibit EPA from limiting carbon emissions from stationary sources, cars and trucks.
Inhofe Chides Alarmists
In his testimony, Inhofe chided climate change "alarmists." Scaring the public with predictions about more intense droughts, floods, storms and diseases is useless, he said, when his math reveals that EPA regulations will make very little difference unless other large emitters act aggressively.
He also estimated that other carbon bills Congress has considered would cost $300 to $400 billion annually and export jobs overseas.