GOP-controlled U.S. House passes bill to delay, scrap EPA rules to reduce mercury, other emissions by requiring committee to evaluate toll of new regulations; bill now heads to Senate, where U.S. Sen. Boxer vows to defeat it

WASHINGTON , September 23, 2011 () – The Republican-controlled House on Friday took another swipe at the government's ability to control air pollution, passing a bill that would delay or scrap rules to reduce mercury and other harmful air emissions.

The 249 to 169 vote sent the legislation to the Senate, where Environment and Public Works Committee chairman Barbara Boxer vowed to defeat it.

"Let me be clear: This is a train we must stop," the California Democrat said after House passage. "I will do everything I can to block the rollbacks being pushed by House Republicans and polluters."

The bill would require President Barack Obama to set up a committee of Cabinet-level officials, to evaluate the toll that a dozen-plus EPA regulations would have on jobs, electricity, gasoline prices and competitiveness.

The regulations targeted in the legislation include everything from toxic air pollution, to gases blamed for global warming and to health-based limits for soot and smog-forming nitrogen oxides. The White House said this week that the bill would be vetoed because it would undermine or slow down important health protections.

Republican-backed measures added to the bill extended its reach by nullifying regulations drafted by the Obama administration to control air pollution that blows into downwind states. They also control for the first time toxic air emissions from some of the oldest coal-fired power plants. The EPA can't draft new regulations on those issues for years and has no deadline to re-issue them.

Republicans said they were not out to gut clean air protections, but instead wanted to phase in a timeout that would allow further analyses and buy time for the economy to recover. However, they held little back in criticizing the nation's environmental agency and its director, Lisa Jackson.

"EPA is a rogue agency," said Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb. "They are producing rules in a fast and furious manner that greatly affect this nation's ability to generate electricity. This bill just wraps three of them together and says, take a step back, do a cost analysis as the president has asked of agencies.

"This agency, though, as headed by Ms. Jackson, has said to us...that she will not...follow the president's own executive order to look at the costs, the cost-benefit analysis."

A key opponent of the Republican bill, Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, said, "Under the guise of asking for more information, the (bill) delays two of the most crucial clean air protections of the last decade. It is a blatant giveaway to polluters that will cost thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars in preventable health care needs."

While the EPA does a cost-benefit analysis of its rules now, it is not as expansive as the examination required by the bill and doesn't look at the cumulative costs of all rules. Current law also bars the agency in some cases from considering costs, such as when it sets a health-based air pollution standard.

That was changed when the House adopted a measure from Rep. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, that would allow EPA to consider cost when it defines how much pollution is unhealthy to breathe.

Republicans, and industry trade groups, also alleged that the independent committee was necessary because the agency's own analysis can't be trusted.

In a letter to House members Thursday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that the bill would cut down "on the common problem of EPA conducting overly-rosy analysis to justify the rule it wants to put in place."

Democrats said the bill didn't consider benefits at all.

Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat and chief architect of the 1990 overhaul of the federal Clean Air Act, said the legislation would flip the EPA's priorities by putting cost ahead of health.

"The first decision would be cost...and the second decision would be how the health of people would be affected," Dingell said.

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