Jonathan Chait

The GOP's Anti-EPA Campaign vs. Public Opinion

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House Republicans have voted to slash 80% of the budget from the E.P.A. department collecting emissions data from corporations:

House lawmakers voted Wednesday evening to drastically reduce the budget of an Environmental Protection Agency program that collects data on greenhouse-gas emissions from U.S. companies, as part of Republicans' continuing push to reduce the regulatory reach of the agency.

Lawmakers successfully reduced funding for the program to $3.2 million from its current funding levels of $16 million.

It's better not to know, apparently.

Of course, this is a piece of the party's attack on the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.The thing that nobody is picking up on yet is that this authority is highly popular:

A new bipartisan national survey of likely 2012 voters finds American voters at odds with those in Congress pushing to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to update air pollution standards, including Carbon Dioxide.

An overwhelming bipartisan majority wants the EPA to set stricter limits on air pollution, with about three-quarters of voters backing tougher standards on Mercury, smog and Carbon Dioxide as well as higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy duty trucks.

More important, voters explicitly reject Congressional efforts to stop the EPA from updating these standards both as a whole and in a debate specific to Carbon Dioxide standards.  After a balanced debate on the issue, with language based on that recently used by supporters of Congressional action, a two-to-one majority opposes Congressional action to stop the EPA. This includes a vast majority of independents who, on this issue, look much more like Democrats than Republicans.

I'm not sure why this gained more attention as a policy matter or as a potential political issue. Here's my guess. Cap and trade couldn't get over the hump in the Senate, and its public support was shaky. Policy elites understand that EPA regulation is a second-best method to limit carbon emissions. Therefore, they assume EPA regulation is less popular than cap and trade.

But it isn't. The public likes the EPA and hates Congress. People also have a poor understanding of costs and trade-offs, and will often approve of measures with hidden rather than explicit costs. In any case, the Republican assault on the EPA is highly unpopular, and I don't understand why Democrats aren't raising the profile of this issue. 

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