Lisa Jackson

Dust Storm

The GOP’s favorite punching bag right now is a government regulation that doesn’t exist. “Our goals include ... overturning the EPA’s proposed regulations that inhibit jobs in areas [such as] farm dust,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wrote in an August Washington Post op-ed. There was no such proposed rule. “We’ll stop excessive federal regulations that inhibit jobs in areas [such as] farm dust,” House Speaker John Boehner similarly pledged in a September 15 speech to the Economic Club of D.C. Still, there was no such proposal.

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Last week, shortly before Christmas, the EPA posted a quick item on its website announcing a timetable for new climate regulations on power plants and petroleum refineries. This, in turn, provoked all sorts of outrage and confusion. Industry lobbyists blasted the move. James Inhofe predicted Armageddon and pledged to do whatever it took to thwart the agency. And some commenters framed this as a fresh power grab by the Obama administration. What was harder to find, though, was an explanation of what the EPA was actually doing. So let's roll tape.

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Here's a quick sketch of how environmental policy will get made for the next two years. Congress won't pass any new laws. The EPA will try to use the authority it already has to mop up pollution from coal plants, factories, and vehicles (and the agency has a fair bit of existing authority to do so). Industry groups, Republicans, and more than a few Democrats will moan about the costs. And the Obama administration will then have to decide just how much confrontation it can really stomach.

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To get ready for the coming Republican Congress, we asked six of The New Republic's most knowledgeable experts to outline how the change will affect politics, regulation, the environment, education, health care, and the economy. Here's how they responded. Jonathan Cohn on politics: The pre-election polls seem to trending, ever so slightly, back towards the Democrats. But it still seems likely that the Republicans will control one, and maybe two, houses of Congress come January. That's obviously not good news for liberals or for liberalism.

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This is the third in an occasional series examining how Republican control of Congress might affect policy debates in the next two years. (Part 1, Part 2) First, a question: Have the last two years, with Obama in the White House and Democrats running Congress, really been that great for environmental policy? It depends how you look at it. There was that debacle in the Gulf, which obviously wasn't handled well. Then the Senate failed to pass a climate bill, and the Copenhagen talks dragged along without much resolution.

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If Republicans take control of the House, apparently their plan is to take revenge upon the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to accede to the demands of lobbyists by tying up agency head Lisa Jackson in endless hearings: On the campaign trail, Republicans have adopted the Environmental Protection Agency as a favorite symbol of the White House’s regulatory overreach.

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Enviro-types don't have much to be cheery about these days. Climate legislation has sputtered out. Jay Rockefeller is trying to delay the federal government's ability to rein in greenhouse gases. And the party of climate denialism is poised to grab a bunch of seats in Congress next year. So that means carbon emissions are just going to keep rising without end, right? Well, not necessarily.

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The Senate has basically given up on passing a climate bill. So where does that leave us? Yesterday, I noted on Twitter that the action is going to shift to the states and federal agencies. Remember, the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and Lisa Jackson is moving ahead with those rules. (Here's my primer on that.) Meanwhile, as I've reported before, plenty of states are moving ahead with their own climate policies. There's already a (modest) cap-and-trade system for utilities in the Northeast called RGGI.

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West Virginia is a heavy coal state. So it's not a shock to see one of its senators, Jay Rockefeller, introducing a bill that would freeze EPA regulations over greenhouse gases for a few years, since those rules could well make it impossible to build new dirty coal plants anywhere in the country.

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At last, a little more clarity on what the EPA is planning to do in terms of greenhouse-gas regulations. (Riveting topic, huh?) Last Friday, West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller and seven other Senate Democrats from coal states sent a letter to EPA head Lisa Jackson expressing "serious economic and energy security concerns" about the agency's plans to regulate carbon-dioxide and other heat-trapping gases on its own.

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