With evidence of climate change all around us — floods, droughts, super-storms — it would make sense that now would be the time for our elected leaders to start taking the threat of climate change seriously. Sadly, the opposite is taking place in the United States, and Republicans are leading the charge to completely dismantle the few environmental protections that are in place.
This multi-faceted attack is coming from both state governors and members of Congress, and includes attacks on federal agencies and rules.
The front lines of this attack are coming from coal-producing states that are threatening to defy the Administration’s carbon emissions standards that were set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The leaders of these states, all Republicans, are currently deciding whether or not it is worth it to enforce the new limits for coal-fired power plants — a move that will save American lives and help protect our environment — or if they want to cater to the whim of the fossil fuel industry.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, had already told state governors earlier this year that they should defy the EPA’s carbon rules, a move that would completely undermine the authority of the federal government and regulatory bodies.
According to The Hill, Mary Fallin, the Republican governor of Oklahoma, issued the following statement about the decision to defy the carbon standards: “While the environmental benefits of these regulations will be minimal, the economic devastation of these overreaching and unrealistic regulations will be very real.”
Governor Fallin’s remarks are the same ones that Republicans have used to fight the new EPA standards, and nearly all environmental rules, but they also have no basis in reality. Studies suggest that not only will the new rules save human lives, but will also save money and create new American jobs.
The attacks on the EPA and climate rules are just the public face of this environmental assault. The most damage is being done behind the scenes in Washington, D.C.
Congressional Republicans have found a new way to attack the environment while operating in near secrecy. According to EnviroNews, Republicans have been attaching rider legislation to must-pass budget bills for several years. These riders have done everything from stripping endangered species of their habitats to gutting the powers of regulatory agencies.
For example, debate is currently taking place in Senate subcommittees over a rider that would strip the EPA of their ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.
And that’s just a taste of what could be coming this year. Last year’s budget bills saw a host of other anti-environment riders:
A rider in the House Interior and Environment appropriation offered by US Rep. Calvert of California would block the EPA from limiting carbon pollution, blocking EPA from finalizing the first-ever carbon pollution standards for new and existing fossil fuel power plants.
A rider in the House Interior and Environment appropriation bill (Sec. 437) offered by Calvert would block any consideration of the costs of carbon pollution on the rest of the world. This would bar the government from assessing and weighing the full costs of extreme weather or other climate impacts caused by pollution and the full benefits of any actions to improve energy efficiency or clean up carbon pollution.
A rider in the House Interior and Environment appropriation offered by Calvert would treat biomass burned for electricity production to be considered to have zero carbon pollution despite the fact that emissions from wood biomass are often higher than those from coal.
A rider in the House Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriation would block any implementation or consideration of the National Climate Assessment, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report and the social cost of carbon.
A rider in the House State and Foreign Operations appropriation (Sec. 7080) would reverse the president's policy of not backing funding for most new overseas coal plants.
A provision in the House Financial Services and General Government appropriation (Sec. 621) would prohibit paying a salary to the assistant to the president for energy and climate change.
A rider in the House Energy and Water appropriation (Sec. 514) would block implementation of updated federal flood protection standards that offer an improved margin of safety and call for agencies to evaluate how sea level rise and other climate impacts increase future flood risk.
A rider in the House Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 417) would permanently prevent the EPA from limiting pollution from livestock production under the Clean Air Act.
A rider in the House Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 418) would permanently prevent the EPA from requiring the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from manure management systems.
A rider in the House Interior and Environment appropriation (Sec. 435) would block EPA's ability to set standards curtailing use of super-polluting hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants and foam blowing agents.
These riders are attached to bills that have to be passed in order for the federal government to function. If debate on these riders takes too long, or if the two sides cannot come to an agreement on how to move forward, they run the risk of causing a partial government shutdown, which can be disastrous for their next political campaign.
This environmental onslaught isn’t happenstance; it is the direct result of the fossil fuel industry’s influence over elected officials.
Since 1990, the oil and gas industry has given more than $423 million to political campaigns. $303 million of that went to Republicans while almost $79 million went to Democrats. That figure doesn’t even include the $100 million+ that the industry has spent each year on lobbying since 2009.
These safety and health standards that Republicans are stripping are a great value for the fossil fuel industry. For every $1 that the industry spends on lobbying, Oil Change International reports that they receive a return of $103. This is money that would have been spent on compliance in addition to preserving the multi-billion dollar tax subsidies that the industry receives on a yearly basis.
The attacks on environmental regulations and the attacks on the EPA are a direct result of the fossil fuel industry’s influence over elected officials. Until we get money out of the political system, these attacks will intensify until the industry is allowed to operate completely outside of the law.
Image credit: Salon.com.