WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans attacked the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) plan to cut pollution for coal-fired power plants last week, challenging the validity of the research on climate change and the viability of a technology aimed at cleaning carbon emissions.
Four of the federal government’s top climate change officials appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to try to build momentum for the president’s climate change strategy.
President Obama unveiled in June his climate action plan following the collapse of a cap-and-trade bill in the Senate. The plan includes a slew of new policies to curtail U.S. carbon emissions and promote renewable energy.
The president’s climate plan directs the EPA to propose rules to cut carbon pollution from power plants.
At the hearing, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told lawmakers power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S.
If left unaddressed, climate change could “have devastating impacts on the United States and the planet,” she said.
Democrats and Republicans on the committee exchanged divisive rhetoric on the issue.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said the evidence of climate change is already being witnessed in more acidic oceans and rising seas.
“Our sea levels are rising,” he said. “It’s not complicated. You measure that with a yardstick.”
Whitehouse urged the witnesses to keep up the good work and “armor” themselves against the attacks from those who deny climate change.
“My belief is that the propaganda machine behind the climate denial effort will go down in history as one of our great American scandals,” Whitehouse said. “Most Americans see through it.”
Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said Americans already think climate change is a serious problem, citing a USA Today poll that shows popular support for government action on climate and clean energy solutions, such as solar and wind power.
“And here’s the thing about the American people. They all say this, not just Democrats, not just Republicans, not just independents. The only place that we have a partisan divide is right here in the Congress,” Boxer said.
Whitehouse and Boxer announced last Tuesday the creation of a Senate task force that aims to attack climate change denial and enlist support from companies outside of the fossil fuel industry.
Republicans on the panel questioned McCarthy about the validity of current climate change research. Some also raised concern about the impact on businesses and the coal industry.
Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) said he would not undertake a series of risky procedures to treat a problem that “we do not actually understand.”
Sen. David Vitter (La.), the committee’s ranking Republican, said the president’s climate action plan is based on “deeply flawed legal justifications and perceived theoretical benefits.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) accused the EPA of working “to wipe out coal and eventually natural gas.”
“It is clear that this EPA and this administration has an agenda, and that agenda is hurting jobs (and) raising energy costs,” he said. “This EPA is on the wrong side of the war on poverty.”
McCarthy defended the proposed rules to limit carbon emissions. She said her agency is under a Supreme Court ruling to regulate emissions as mandated by the Clean Air Act, which requires the agency to regulate carbon dioxide if it poses a threat to public health and welfare.