July 23, 2013

House proposes slashing EPA's budget to 1978 levels

House Republicans this week took a big swing at President Barack Obama's plans to tackle climate change, by releasing an appropriations bill that scales back the Environmental Protection Agency's budget to levels last seen 35 years ago.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, introduced the bill Tuesday at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment Appropriations. The bill includes $2.9 billion in cuts to the EPA budget, Simpson's office said. That would bring the agency's budget to below 1978 levels, he said.

Simpson said it prevents the EPA from implementing any of Obama's climate change initiatives, outlined last month in a speech at Georgetown University. The president's plan to reduce carbon pollution has at its centerpiece the use of the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions at power plants.

Courts have determined that carbon emissions are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, and that the EPA has the authority to pursue regulation of them. A number of major environmental groups have given the White House plans that outline what sort of legal authority they think the agency has to act; the EPA is expected to work closely with states to curtail carbon emissions.

"This administration's appetite for new regulations and disregard for the will of Congress have left us with little choice but to block his climate change agenda in this bill," Simpson said.

The bill is expected to be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee next week.

Such harsh cuts are unlikely to ever be enacted, however. They won't pass muster in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and most Americans support the core clean air and water mission of the agency.

Here's what some recent polling by an environmental group found:

Sixty-one percent of Americans back Obama's plan, according to the poll conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council and released last week. The poll's author's boasted that even 49 percent of Republicans favor the EPA's move to curtail carbon emissions. The support among Democrats is 84 percent and 56 percent among independents, the poll found.

Hart Research, which often works with Democrats, conducted the poll for NRDC jointly with Chesapeake Beach Consulting, a firm that often works with Republicans. The polling team surveyed 808 registered voters nationwide; the poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

July 18, 2013

Senate confirms Gina McCarthy to head EPA

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, where she'll serve as the nation's top air and water quality watchdog and oversee the president's climate change plans.

The Senate voted 59-40 to confirm McCarthy, who served previously as the agency’s assistant administrator in charge of air and radiation. The Senate unanimously confirmed her for that job during the first Obama administration. Previously, she worked as a state environmental regulator for Obama’s 2012 opponent, Republican former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Her confirmation came the same week as the Senate ended a standoff over President Barack Obama’s executive branch nominees. Democrats had threatened to dramatically alter Senate rules to block the chamber’s Republican minority from filibustering the confirmation votes of executive branch nominees.

In a statement, Obama said he was pleased she was confirmed with bipartisan support. "Over the past four years, I have valued Gina’s counsel and I look forward to having her in my Cabinet as we work to slow the effects of climate change and leave a cleaner environment for future generations."

Republicans, led by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, held up a committee vote on her nomination for several weeks, saying the EPA hadn’t adequately answered questions about McCarthy’s role as a deputy there. Vitter asked McCarthy a record-breaking 653 questions, out of 1,120 from the committee.

Those questions, in addition to queries from other Republicans, might be the most ever asked of an administration nominee facing Senate confirmation. McCarthy’s predecessor, Lisa Jackson, faced 157 questions from the same committee, Democrats said.

During her confirmation hearing, Republican senators criticized McCarthy for her past role at a federal agency that has a heavy regulatory hand, including on the coal industry and climate change policy; Democrats argued that EPA air-quality rules save lives and create the conditions for a healthy environment and a strong economy.

July 17, 2013

EPA building named for Clinton

Former President Bill Clinton was honored in marble Wednesday, as the headquarters building of the Environmental Protection Agency officially assumed his name.

During a short ceremony at the agency, Clinton emphasized his belief that environmental leadership can coexist with economic growth.

"The real message of this day...is that you can have a growing economy with more jobs and growing incomes and a sustainable environmental policy," he said. The ceremony was closed to the public, but broadcast online.

The EPA headquarters are now known as the William Jefferson Clinton building, and sit one block from the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The EPA building is at 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., between the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

Clinton's name replaces that of Ariel Rios, a slain agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency that once occupied the building. Rios' name will now grace the reflecting pool at ATF headquarters.

Clinton and Reagan are among a handful of presidents with major buildings or monuments bearing named for them in the nation’s capital, which of course, goes by the name of the first president, George Washington.

Continue reading "EPA building named for Clinton" »

June 05, 2013

Sen. Lautenberg will lie in repose in Senate chamber Thursday

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat who died Monday at age 89, will lie in repose in the U.S. Senate chamber Thursday afternoon.

Lautenberg's casket is due to arrive at the Capitol. A color guard ceremony is scheduled on the East Front steps, starting at 1:30 p.m.

The casket will then be taken inside the Capitol, where Lautenberg will lie in repose on the Lincoln catafalque in the Senate chamber during the afternoon.

Lautenberg was the Senate's oldest member and the last of its World War II veterans. He was eulogized Wednesday at a New York City synagogue. He was remembered as champion of transportation and environmental causes. Vice President Joe Biden, who served with Lautenberg in the Senate, was among the speakers.


May 10, 2013

White House releases Arctic strategy

The Obama administration on Friday released a national strategy for the Arctic, in advance of Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip next week to Sweden to attend a conference of eight polar nations.

In it, the White House outlines its approach to some key Arctic issues, even as it acknowledges that there are conflicting -- and even contradictory -- goals and challenges in the region as it becomes more accessible because of melting polar ice caused by global warming.

Those challenges include the possibility of additional oil and gas exploration, new fishing territory and increased transit and even tourism. And they come as the U.S. has to grapple with the question of how much the oil and gas exploration will contribute to the very conditions that are opening the Arctic to more exploration.

"Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region for the economic opportunities it presents and in recognition of the need to protect and conserve this unique, valuable, and changing environment," Obama said in the opening page of the strategy.

Continue reading "White House releases Arctic strategy" »

May 09, 2013

GOP senators boycott committee vote on Obama's EPA nominee

Republican senators refused Thursday to attend a scheduled committee vote on President Barack Obama's nominee as the nation's top air and water quality regulator.

At least one Republican senator, Roy Blunt of Missouri, has a hold on Gina McCarthy's nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. And the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, David Vitter of Louisiana, asked McCarthy a record-breaking 653 questions. Those questions, in addition to queries from other Republicans, are considered to be the most ever asked of an administration nominee facing Senate confirmation.

McCarthy serves as the agency’s assistant administrator in charge of air and radiation. The Senate unanimously confirmed her for that job during the first Obama administration. Previously, she worked as a state environmental regulator for Obama’s 2012 opponent, Republican former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

The chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the GOP move "obstructionist." The vote has been held up for three weeks already to give Republicans time to get their questions answered, Boxer said. They're not going to like the answers, Boxer said, because they don't favor what she called a "pro-pollution fringe philosophy."

Continue reading "GOP senators boycott committee vote on Obama's EPA nominee" »

February 26, 2013

20 senators to Kerry: Approve Keystone XL

Approve the Keystone XL pipeline in the next month, Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and 19 other senators are saying in a letter to the new secretary of state, their former Senate colleague John Kerry.

(Full text of the Feb. 22 letter and Hagan's news release today is here. For the names of those who signed, click on the text link.)

The pipeline would carry oil from the tarsands of Alberta, Canada, to ports on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas (latest McClatchy story on it here). Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because of the heat-trapping emissions from producing and using the oil, and because of threats of spills along the line.

The bipartisan group of senators told Kerry to approve the pipeline quickly. “Further delay will continue to hurt job creation and may damage our relationship with Canada,” they write.

Continue reading "20 senators to Kerry: Approve Keystone XL" »

February 09, 2013

GOP talks about energy in weekly address

Republicans used their weekly address to discuss energy Saturday, as Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, outlined a plan for energy efficiency.

“Energy is not a necessary evil.  Energy is good.  And that’s why it is in our national interest to make energy abundant, affordable, clean, diverse, and secure," said Murkowski, top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

She offered about 200 recommendations.  "These span the spectrum of resources and reforms, from the immediate approval of the Keystone XL pipeline to a trust fund for energy research that is paid for with the revenues from new production," Murkowski said.

"Every recommendation in my blueprint is associated with a clear goal for the year 2020.  We can end our dependence on OPEC oil.  We can help make renewable energy more competitive, build on our efficiency gains, and re-establish the supply chain for critical minerals.  We can ensure that research, and not endless regulation, is the force behind technological innovation.  Through sensible regulatory reforms, we can prevent the misuse of environmental laws and allow projects to proceed—and all the while maintaining the highest environmental standards in the world."

She urged listeners to go to energy.senate.gov to learn more.


December 30, 2012

Obama on his second term: Immigration will be a priority

President Obama says in a close of the year interview today that fixing the country's "broken immigration system is a top priority."

He vowed in the Meet the Press interview to introduce legislation in the first year. "We've talked about it long enough, we know how we can fix it. We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support. That's something we should get done."

Obama says his second priority will be to "stabilize the economy and make sure it's growing." That will include deficit reduction -- and spending on infrastructure, including roads, bridges and schools.

He also called energy a priority, saying the U.S. could become an energy exporter, but that it has to be balanced with environmental concerns.

November 27, 2012

House Republicans recommend committee chairs

    House of Representatives Republicans will formally pick committee chairmen Wednesday for the 113th Congress, which starts in January.
    Here are the recommendations from the House Republican Steering Committee:

Agriculture – Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK)

Appropriations – Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY)

Armed Services – Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA)

Budget – Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Education and the Workforce – Rep. John Kline (R-MN)

Energy and Commerce – Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI)

Financial Services – Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX)

Foreign Affairs – Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA)

Homeland Security – Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX)

Intelligence – Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI)

Judiciary – Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)

Natural Resources – Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA)

Oversight and Government Reform – Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)

Rules – Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX)

Science, Space, and Technology – Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

Small Business – Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO)

Transportation and Infrastructure – Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA)

Veterans’ Affairs – Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL)

Ways and Means – Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI)


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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