- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2011

As Congress debates the merits of President Obama’s request for another $450 billion to spend, the single most important thing this administration can do for the economy wouldn’t cost a dime. All it would take would be for the president to assert some leadership and stop his Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) assault on American jobs.

At a time when Americans are struggling the most, the administration’s hostility to using our domestic resources, as reflected in EPA’s regulatory agenda, is detrimental to the nation’s economic engine. The onslaught of new rules resulting from enforcement of the Clean Air Act will greatly increase the price of energy, put Americans out of work and potentially leave households literally in the dark.

Economic impacts are just part of the story. As chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, I am concerned that EPA’s fundamental justifications for these rules are based on shaky science and a thumb-on-the-scale process biased toward predetermined outcomes that assert greater control over our economy. These controversial actions include the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), the Boiler Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) Rule, the Utility MACT Rule, the partial waiver granted for midlevel ethanol blends, and the nascent Tier III rule-making to establish more stringent fuel specifications.

I have witnessed a disturbing pattern by EPA of bypassing comprehensive scientific and cost-benefit analysis in order to move its agenda forward. A prime example is the CSAPR, a rule requiring states to prevent their emissions sources from significantly contributing to the ability of a downwind neighboring state from attaining air-quality standards, a seemingly reasonable concept.

In reality, the CSAPR serves as another monument to the activist EPA’s legacy of putting bad politics ahead of good science, without regard to economics. The finalized rule would force installation of major pollution-control equipment on power plants in a very short time period. Furthermore, at the last minute, the EPA placed additional requirements on Texas and added several states to the rule without giving affected stakeholders the ability to review or comment. As a result, utilities have outlined the potential for job losses, increased rates and reduced reliability. The largest power generator in Texas, Luminant, announced that this rule alone will force the closure of two facilities, resulting in 500 lost jobs.

The EPA’s justification for including Texas in all of the rule’s requirements is based on a single projected impact on an Illinois county. To be clear, the EPA modeled a potential effect in a single area hundreds of miles away, which had not actually been measured. In fact, that county is currently meeting the required air-quality standard. Most disturbing, the model assumptions the EPA uses to estimate such linkages are not public and not subject to peer review. These models allow the agency to pick and choose input data and assumptions, free from technical scrutiny. That is not how science should be done.

Another example is in the area of natural gas production from the nation’s vast shale formations. The process of hydraulic fracturing enables safe extraction of almost 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, accounting for nearly 30 percent of annual domestic fossil fuel production. Recently, this safe, proven method has been the subject of a growing number of uninformed allegations and misleading attacks by the EPA as it attempts to regulate this process at the federal level rather than allowing states to do so. Despite the agency’s own admission that there has never been a proven case of drinking-water contamination in more than 50 years of use, a congressionally mandated draft EPA study of the practice attempts to frighten Americans into supporting an unnecessary regulatory agenda.

Objectivity has never been the EPA’s strong suit. When developing greenhouse gas regulations, a recent independent inspector general review concluded that the agency ignored long-standing federal requirements mandating independent review of the science used to support such action. The EPA dismissed the criticism as a minor dispute over technicalities. In reality, it is about circumventing well-established scientific processes, such as peer review, in order to enable the justification for job-killing rules without public scrutiny.

The EPA needs to be reasonable. It needs to slow down the current barrage of new regulations and allow for the requisite, thorough scientific analysis of the justifications, impacts and costs of its proposals. In the interest of transparency and scientific integrity, the agency should give the scientific community access to the data sets and disclose assumptions used in models. The EPA needs to avoid usurping the states’ necessary freedom to regulate their own industries and base any rule-making on an adequate body of sound, scientific research. The agency needs a timeout.

Rep. Ralph M. Hall, Texas Republican, is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.