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H.R. 637 (115th): Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017


Greenhouse gases are the primary human-caused contributor to the climate crisis, as 2016 marked Earth’s hottest year on record for the third straight year. A new Republican bill would prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases at all.

Context

In 2003, with growing public awareness of the climate crisis, the Republican George W. Bush administration’s EPA ruled 2003 that they did not have authority to regulate greenhouse gases, the primary human-caused contributor to the crisis. In response, 12 Democrat-led states sued the agency and won. The 2007 Supreme Court decision called Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency ruled 5–4 that the EPA had authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

Even though they had the authority to regulate, the Bush administration still declined to actually do so for the remainder of his presidency. That reversed under the Obama administration took over, with the EPA officially determining that greenhouse gases posed a public danger in 2009. This was followed by greenhouse gas regulations for cars and vehicles in 2010 and from power plants in 2015. (The latter regulations are currently blocked by a federal court while their constitutionality is debated, a ruling on which is expected later this year.)

What the bill does

H.R. 637, the Stopping EPA Overreach Act, was introduced by Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AR6) and would once again prevent the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

That would overturn Obama’s Clean Power Plan for power plants, his car and vehicle environmental requirements, and more. Not only that, but the bill would also explicitly overturn two EPA provisions related to climate change and enacted late in the Obama presidency, one from 2015 for electric utility generating units and one from 2016 for natural gas sources.

In addition to overturning regulations already instituted, the bill contains an important forward-reaching provision as well: “No regulation, rule, or policy [from the EPA] shall take effect if [it] has a negative impact on employment in the United States unless… approved by Congress and signed by the President.” With at minimum four more years of a Republican president and/or Congress — if not potentially many more years — that provision could potentially prevent many would-be EPA regulations from going into effect.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the EPA has gone too far with their environmental regulations, especially on greenhouse gases, which they claim harm businesses, cost jobs, and hurt consumers. Almost all — if not literally all — of the House cosponsors including lead sponsor Palmer are also climate change deniers, or at least deny human activity is a major cause. (Both claims are false and widely denied by the scientific community.)

“The EPA has repeatedly claimed fighting climate change as justification for crafting onerous regulations that limit… compounds that are both essentially harmless and in fact required for life to flourish. This is done using statutes [like the Clean Air Act] Congress never contemplated could be read to regulate such common and essential substances,” Palmer said in a press release. “This bill reasserts Congress’s authority by prohibiting the EPA from unilaterally continuing to cause severe economic damage by regulating greenhouse gases.”

What opponents say

Opponents argue that the EPA’s regulations are necessary in the face of a climate crisis with little time to spare in reversing. 2016 was planet Earth’s hottest year on record for the third consecutive year. The effects have stretched from the obvious environmental ones to national security, which even Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis acknowledged.

“This is the legislative equivalent of trying to ban fire trucks while your house is burning,” Sierra Club Climate Policy Director Liz Perera told Huffington Post Politics. “[Sponsors] should be embarrassed for so blatantly ignoring reality and ashamed of themselves for so recklessly endangering our communities.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted 120 House cosponsors, all Republicans. It has yet to receive a vote in the House Agriculture, Energy and Commerce, Natural Resources, or Transportation & Infrastructure Committees. A previous version of the bill introduced by Palmer in the prior Congress attracted an even larger 152 House cosponsors, again all Republicans, yet never received a vote in committee then either.

Brad Plumer at Vox ranked the bill’s odds of passage as “low-ish,” predicting that congressional Republicans would more likely let climate change denying EPA head Scott Pruitt dismantle the EPA’s regulations from the inside.

This bill isn’t as direct as the Republican-led bill H.R. 861 to abolish the EPA entirely, which GovTrack Insider wrote about last month, but this bill also has substantially more support as measured in cosponsors, with 120 versus six.

Last updated Apr 21, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 24, 2017.


Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017

This bill amends the Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride pollution from the scope of that Act.

The bill declares that current law does not authorize or require the regulation of climate change or global warming and nullifies certain final rules relating to: (1) greenhouse gas and volatile organic compounds emissions, including methane emissions, from the oil and natural gas sector; and (2) carbon pollution emissions from the utility power sector.

Before proposing or finalizing regulations or policies, the Environmental Protection Agency must analyze the net and gross impact of those regulations and policies on employment. Regulations and policies may not take effect if they have a negative impact on employment, unless they are approved by Congress and signed by the President.