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The GOP leadership has spent the last few weeks trying to pass a bill that prevents the EPA from ever regulating greenhouse gases as part of the Clean Air Act. The bill would also prevent the EPA from setting tailpipe emissions standards for cars and trucks, but the former is drawing more widespread controversy. And for good reason. Since the bill attempts to tear down a ruling based on the findings of our nation's top public health experts and scientists -- a ruling that a Supreme Court decision turned into a legal obligation to uphold -- we're witnessing a case wherein Congressional politicians are actually arguing that they know better than the conclusions of an entire body of science. To recap: Congress passed the Clean Air Act decades ago, which requires the EPA to determine whether certain gases are a 'harmful pollutant', a threat to public health, and to regulate them if they are. A 2007 Supreme Court decision determined that legally, CO2 may be considered one such harmful pollutant, and that the EPA should decide whether it was or not, using the extant body of scientific evidence as its guide.
And, as Dave Roberts' explains in his latest piece at Grist (which summarizes the above more eloquently than I), in the EPA's "endangerment finding, agency scientists determined, as has the entire worldwide scientific community, that CO2 does in fact pose a serious threat to public heath. (A view shared by Lisa Jackson's Republican predecessor.) EPA is thus required by law to regulate CO2."
Which means that Congressional Republicans are going against not only the findings of the world's scientists and health experts, but against the legal precedent set by the ruling of a conservative-leaning Supreme Court. And yet, it's the direct flauting of a very decisive scientific recommendation that's drawing the deep concern (and ire) of many observing the proceedings. These politicians are, in essence, asserting that they know better than the established body of science.
Which is outrageous -- it is the role of politicians to craft policy according to the findings of science, not to attempt to overrule those findings directly. As Roberts says, "For Congress to intervene in the scientific determinations of a public health agency is, as far as I know, unprecedented." We've seen the spheres of politics and sciences conflate more than usual over the last few years -- but now we're actually seeing the former trying to ram the other down.
Now, even if this bill passes the House, and somehow passes the Senate, chances are it will be vetoed by Obama. But make no mistake about it, the very nature of its existence is setting a dangerous precedent in our politics: That Congressmen, lacking any formal expertise, may find it in their province to directly refute scientific findings they deem inconvenient for political gain. Scary stuff.
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More on GOP's Anti-Clean Air Act Bill
5 Leading US Health Groups Oppose Efforts to Block EPA Regulating CO2
Fred Upton Met with Energy Lobbyists in Secret Before His About Face on Climate