It is no secret that EPA and its wave of recent and forthcoming regulations have stirred up much angst among Republicans in Congress. Many industry groups argue that EPA’s rulemaking, especially its anticipated announcement of a much stricter ozone standard, will have a devastating impact on our fragile economy.
While plenty of bills have been floated since the start of the Obama Administration to try and stop EPA from enacting rules, in particular climate change related regulations, those efforts have been unsuccessful. So long as there is a power split between the House and Senate, any proposal to rein in EPA is a non-starter
The best the Republican controlled House has been able to do is call in EPA to testify before House Subcommittees to put pressure on EPA directly. Those efforts have had little success as the regulations continue to emerge from the Agency.
Now comes the debt deal and its initial $1 trillion in budget cuts. Due to political wrangling the cuts come almost entirely from discretionary spending which makes up approximately one-fifth of the total federal budget. Republicans see the cuts an opportunity to push forward their anti-regulatory agenda through significant funding reductions that will effectively prevent EPA from being able to act.
EPA and Renewable Energy Programs on the Chopping Block
Both Republican and Democrat lawmakers have indicated that funding for EPA and other federal agency programs that benefit the environment and renewable energy are surely to get hit and get hit hard. EPA staffing cuts in programs implementing climate regulations, air programs and water infrastructure will result from the first round of the $917 billion in cuts called for in the debt-ceiling deal. The Department of Energy will likely see less funding for grants, loans and other programs for renewable energy.
Time Magazine said the hidden Republican agenda in the debt-deal battle was to "gut the EPA."
It was lost in the endless drama of the debt-ceiling negotiations, but last week, the Republicans in charge of the House of Representatives launched an unprecedented attack on the U.S.’s environmental protections. GOP Representatives added rider after rider to the 2012 spending bill for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, tacking on amendments that would essentially prevent those agencies — charged with protecting America’s air, water and wildlife — from doing their jobs.
While the riders were unsuccessful, the dramatic budget cuts seem inevitable. This from Politico discussing likely cuts to EPA and renewable energy programs:
“These guys are looking at 20 percent real cuts in the next two or three or four years,” said GOP strategist Mike McKenna said. “That’s a big, big hit for an agency to take.”
Lawmaker Says Cuts will Mean More Lawsuits
While the EPA will have less staff to implement its programs and develop new regulations, EPA still faces statutory mandates to enact rules. EPA routinely is sued by environmental groups trying to enforce these statutory deadlines. One such example is the ozone standard which EPA is under a Court order to act.
Jim Moran, D-Va., ranking Democrat on the House Interior-Environment spending subcommittee predicted an avalanche of new suits seeking to compel EPA to act.
"The irony is that the law isn’t going to change, it’s just that the people whose job it is to implement the law won’t be able to do that, so the environmental issues will play out in the courts instead of administratively or over a negotiating table," Moran told National Journal. "It’s more costly, it’s more time-consuming, and usually it’s less satisfying."
While reducing funding can slow down EPA’s ability to act, its a much messier then changing the law. As long as the law remains the same, the regulatory environment really won’t change for industry.