Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the TRAIN Act (H.R. 1705) made it through the House of Representatives. Its goal is to stop the Environmental Protection Agency dead in its tracks from moving forward with both the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. The Coalition for Sensible Safeguards, in a letter opposing the passage of the TRAIN Act, referenced the legislation as creating “a closed committee of cabinet secretaries and other high-level officials to scrutinize the economic impact of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) upcoming standards.”
But as Yogi Berra would say, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over. “
One of the signees to that correspondence was Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). He is working full time to push back against the anti-regulatory cabal and to create transparency and awareness around the extent of the anti-environmental votes, through an online searchable database. The public can now check the voting records of representatives on a range of topics from pollution prevention and clean energy, to climate change and pipeline safety.
I interviewed the Congressman via e-mail about a number of issues: to learn about his continued commitment to safeguarding The Clean Air Act, to hear his response to the vow of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) to repeal “job-destroying regulations,” and to gain insight into how the TRAIN Act evolved.
Interview with Rep. Henry Waxman:
MCAF: You have been working since 1990, when you were a key author of the Clean Air Act, to guarantee Americans the right to an environment free of toxins and hazards. You have launched a searchable online database on anti-environmental votes by the 112th Congress. Could you outline your goals on this endeavor and how it can help educate the public?
Rep. Waxman: I felt it was important to assemble all the anti-environment votes in one place so the public could see how destructive this Republican-controlled House has been for our environment. It has voted to block environmental progress at every possible point, by refusing to address climate change, stopping actions to prevent air and water pollution, and undermining protections for public lands and coastal areas. These regulations were put in place for good reason – to protect the public health of the American people. The public deserves to know that the Republicans are attempting to undo all the progress we have made through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
MCAF: On August 29, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) sent a memo to House Republicans under the title of “Upcoming Jobs Agenda.” It focused on what Cantor qualified as a “repeal of job-destroying regulations.” Among items targeted were the Cross-State Air Pollution Ruling and the Ozone Ruling. Why do you think Republicans continue to tie regulations, which would promote better health for Americans, to being detrimental to the economy?
Rep. Waxman: The Republicans continue to blame the EPA and strict environmental regulations for the economic downtown. But in fact, it was the lack of regulation of Wall Street banks that caused this recession—not environmental regulations that protect children from breathing dirty and dangerous air.
The Republicans continue to claim that they support environmental protection, but actions speak louder than words. Earlier this year, when Republicans voted to block the EPA’s carbon pollution rules, they said they wanted to clean up other air pollution, just not carbon pollution. Earlier this month, when they voted to block the air toxics rules for boilers and cement kilns, they said they care about air pollution but denied the health benefits from reducing air toxics such as mercury. Later, they attacked the cross-state air pollution rule, which controls smog and soot. It doesn’t appear that there is any pollution that they actually want to control.
MCAF: The TRAIN Act was passed on September 23, by a vote of 249-169—primarily along party lines. Nineteen Democrats, some of whom come from coal-producing states, also voted for passage. Could you share how the bill was amended in committee from its original form and intent, and the backstory on the bill’s evolution—including how you requested a delay of the legislation until the Congressional Budget Office had scored the bill?
Rep. Waxman: The TRAIN Act was originally proposed as simply a study of a number of EPA regulations. I had a several concerns about the bill. The study was unnecessary and duplicative for the most part, but it also required an analysis of regulations that had not yet been proposed and also analyses of potentially hundreds of state and local regulations and permitting decisions. Complying with such a burdensome requirement would not be feasible. Additionally, the entire approach did not seem balanced. A huge focus was on studying the effects on the coal and oil companies, but there was no mention of asthma, premature mortality, birth defects, or the other avoidable health impacts associated with air pollution.
The Energy and Power Subcommittee held a hearing on the bill on April 7, 2011. On May 24, 2011, the subcommittee marked up H.R. 1705. This bill did not comply with the Republican leadership’s rules on discretionary CutGo. Discretionary CutGo rules are new with this Republican Congress: They have no effect on how much money is actually spent, but they create an additional hurdle for legislation. I don’t support the rules, but if the Democrats have to live by them, then the Republicans should as well. Subcommittee Ranking Member Rush and I sent a letter to Chairman Upton raising concerns and asking him to delay the legislation until the Congressional Budget Office could score the legislation to give an accurate assessment of costs.
A new version of the bill was introduced as H.R. 2401, and this bill complied with CutGo by slashing the authorization for an effective and popular program that reduces toxic air pollution from diesel engines. We marked that bill up in subcommittee on July 8, 2011.
During two subcommittee mark-ups and a hearing, this legislation had always been described as simply wanting to provide better information on EPA rules. But when the bill came before the full Committee, Rep. Whitfield offered an amendment to block and indefinitely delay two of the most important air pollution rules in decades.
When the bill came to the floor, Rep. Whitfield offered an additional amendment that nullifies these rules and blocks the EPA from ever reissuing them. Combined with the Latta amendment that gutted the way we have set clean air standards for 40 years, the TRAIN Act now cuts the heart out of the Clean Air Act.
MCAF: Moms Clean Air Force is working to disseminate information on the fight for clean air regulations. You have actively worked on “right to know initiatives” and The Children’s Environmental Protection Act. Do you see these efforts as being under threat?
Rep. Waxman: None of our environmental laws are immune from attack in this Congress. I’d encourage you to review the database of votes I’m put on my website to see the truly breathtaking scope of this onslaught.
MCAF: Could you comment on the President’s request to the EPA to withdraw the ozone regulations?
Rep. Waxman: The Administration has taken many strong actions to protect the environment, but I was disappointed by the Administration’s decision on ozone. They should have moved forward with the regulation by setting a standard to protect public health. I do hope that the White House continues to defend the environment and support the other pollution reduction actions that the EPA is working on. I think the American people want government to protect the environment and public health.
MCAF: Why do you believe that it is specifically important to regulate toxins that are harmful to babies and children?
Rep. Waxman: My basic belief on the role of government is that we have a responsibility to others in our society. We should help people who cannot help themselves. We have a responsibility to the American people to ensure that they are protected from and not unknowingly exposed to toxic substances. And we have to be especially careful when it comes to children and babies, who are the future of our country.
MCAF: What can citizens do to push back on this ongoing fight against EPA regulations for clean air?
Rep. Waxman: Individuals should make sure their views and voices are heard. They should talk to their elected representatives and urge them to fight for clean air.
Here is a video of Rep. Waxman’s floor statement on the TRAIN Act: