July 6 — A House subcommittee hearing descended into chaos after Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) called Environmental Protection Agency rules on air pollution “un-American.”
Johnson's comments provoked outrage among Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power who accused Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) of losing control of the hearing as it broke down into shouting matches amid accusations that Republicans were badgering Janet McCabe, the EPA's top air official. Throughout the July 6 hearing, which was called to discuss the impacts of air pollution regulations completed by the EPA during President Barack Obama's administration, Republicans pointedly accused the agency of ignoring the economic impact of its regulations and pursuing rules designed to destroy the coal industry.
The partisan acrimony was sparked by Johnson who dismissed the EPA's regulations as “irresponsible” and “un-American.”
“You obviously you don't have a concern—and your department doesn't have a concern—for the economic well-being of the very people that create jobs in this country,” he said.
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) also called out McCabe as someone who has “never worked in the industry. You have worked against the industry from day one.”
Democrats seized on Johnson's remark immediately with Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) saying he was “a little taken aback by the hostility that I hear in this room.”
Johnson took the unusual step of seizing the floor to fire back.
“I find it absurd that we would be challenged in an air of hostility when we are doing what the American people require us and request us to do, which is to hold the EPA accountable,” Johnson said. “If we're not going to do, then who is going to do it?”
In response, the top Democrat on the subcommittee Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) called the accusation from Johnson “absurd.”Key Quotes From Hearing
Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio): “The rules are complicated. The regulations that you guys are putting out are complicated. It's draining the lifeblood out of our businesses...The money that's coming out [of the economy] in federal regulations, particularly from the EPA, is like a dadgum permission slip to do business in America.”
Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.):“I've read your bio. You have never worked in the industry. You have worked against the industry from day one.”
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.):“When are you going to stop the badgering of witnesses before this committee? This hearing is getting way out of hand and you have to have some responsibility for it.”
“My side has sat here very patiently and calmly while this witness, who by every indication has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people—to be called un-American, that’s absurd,” Rush said. “That’s extreme; if you don’t agree with the facts, then all of a sudden you’re called un-American. There is no place in this hearing for a witness, being from [the EPA] or whatever agency it is, to be called un-American.”
Whitfield attempted to diffuse the tension. He noted “very strong feelings” on the subcommittee about climate change, but the tension in part stemmed from the belief among Republicans that the agency was overreaching well beyond its statutory authority to “impose” its climate change agenda.
Eventually Whitfield and Rush got into a heated argument over how the hearing was being conducted.
“When are you going to stop the badgering of witnesses before this committee?” Rush asked of Whitfield. “This hearing is getting way out of hand and you have to have some responsibility for it.”
Whitfield shot back: “This hearing is not out of hand. People have a right to ask their questions.”
Rush replied: “This witness has been badgered and badgered and badgered and badgered.”
Whitfield said he “respectfully disagreed” and moved on to the next set of questions.
When the hearing did touch on policy, it largely retread long-standing talking points about the agency's high-profile air regulations, including its Clean Power Plan (RIN:2060-AR33) to curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, limits on methane emissions from new oil and gas infrastructure (RIN:2060-AS30) and revisions to the national ozone standards (RIN:2060-AP38).
McCabe said the agency's decision to propose a voluntary program that would reward states that choose to make early investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy (RIN:2060-AS84) is entirely consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's stay of the Clean Power Plan.
“We believe that taking this action is not inconsistent with the stay,” she said. “We’re being very, very careful about this.”
Though she declined to predict when the EPA might take final action on its Clean Energy Incentive Program, formally proposed in late June, McCabe said the agency would likely move to finalize it at some point.
She declined to speculate on why the Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan, but again expressed confidence it ultimately would survive legal challenges.
Republicans on the subcommittee said all the air regulations issued by the Obama EPA have had little to no positive benefits to the environment, while crippling the economies and job sectors of communities across the country.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), former chairman of the full committee, said he believes the regulations have not “changed the basic air quality one percent” or “had an impact” on the environment, but instead forced the closure of coal-fired power plants across the country.
“I want clean air, I want clean water,” Barton said. “But I don’t want an organized attack on the energy-producing sectors of America.”
In response, McCabe said the administration had seen significant reductions in a number of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and ozone.
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