Across an often contentious three-hour congressional hearing Thursday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson vigorously defended her agency’s policies promoting cleaner air and water, and rejected suggestions by Republican lawmakers that the EPA is a chief factor in the country’s stagnant economic recovery.
“The American people have a right to know whether the air they breathe is healthy or unhealthy,” Jackson said during her appearance before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Time and again, she dismissed the notion that stubbornly high unemployment should prompt policymakers to roll back robust environmental protections.
“It is analogous to a doctor not giving a diagnosis to a patient because the patient might not be able to afford the treatment,” she said.
GOP members cast Jackson as an über-regulator, oblivious to the economic hardship her policies have created in their home districts. “We have focused on cracking down on the private sector, on the job generators,” lamented Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., cited the example of Buckman Laboratories International, a Memphis-based chemical manufacturer with 1,500 employees worldwide and estimated annual sales of $500 million.
According to Blackburn, the company was recently forced to change 4,000 labels on its containers, in order to comply with new EPA rules – but did not have to change the contents of the microbicides in the containers. And the firm received a new demand from the agency on Wednesday, Blackburn said, to change an additional five labels.
“Do you have any understanding of how the uncertainty that your agency is causing is affecting the businesses that are in my state?” Blackburn asked Jackson.
“I would not argue that regulations and standard-setting for safety don't have impacts on business,” Jackson replied. “But remember: The pesticide laws and regulations are for the safety of the users of those pesticides.”
“Ms. Jackson, we are all for clean air, clean water, and a safe environment,” Blackburn shot back. “There is no argument about that. What we are looking at is the cost-benefit analysis of this.”
It was Jackson’s 29th turn as a congressional witness since taking office, and her ninth since Republicans assumed control of the House 10 months ago. By contrast, her predecessor under the Bush administration, Stephen Johnson, made only four such appearances in a comparable two-and-a-half-year time frame.
The hearing came three weeks after President Obama stunned environmental activists and other members of his liberal base by rejecting an EPA proposal to toughen ozone standards. Republicans seized on that decision as evidence that Jackson has overreached during her tenure as EPA administrator.
“While you may want to carry out your agenda, even the president has acknowledged that you've gone too far,” said Rep. Steven Scalise,R-La.
Pressed about the president’s decision, Jackson maintained that Obama remains committed to vigorous enforcement of anti-pollution measures.
At one point, Jackson invoked last year’s deadly BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast to rebut Republicans’ calls for the dismantlement of the nation’s environmental regulatory regime.
“Not every deregulatory push works out well for the country or the environment,” she told lawmakers. “In 2009, a company called another federal agency's rules an unnecessary burden. That agency wasn't EPA; it was the Minerals Management Service. And that company was Transocean; and we know what happened.”
Since the Obama administration began, the EPA has announced stricter rules for the emission of mercury and other toxins from coal-burning power plants, and ordered 27 states to curb power plant emission because strong winds carry pollution from those states to others.
Jackson testified that these measures will save lives and money in the long run, and also create new jobs to handle the transition process for plants that must retrofit their facilities to meet the new standards.
Specifically, she claimed the administration’s anti-pollution controls will prevent an estimated 11,000 heart attacks; 11,000 cases of acute childhood bronchitis; 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions; 17,000 premature deaths; 120,000 cases of childhood asthma; and 850,000 days of work missed due to illness.
Energy industry analysts call the Obama-era EPA rules the most expensive ever imposed. A study funded by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity estimated that if fully enacted, EPA’s pending rules would cost the country 1.4 million jobs by decade’s end, and raise retail electricity prices by an average of 12 percent by 2016.
Confronted with similarly dire assessments of the impact of her work, Jackson told lawmakers the energy industry overstated by a multiple of four the costs associated with efforts to combat “acid rain” in the 1990s.