Posted by Rebekah Wilce on September 08, 2011

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (courtesy of cantor.house.gov)House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), an alumnus of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which the Center for Media and Democracy has been investigating through ALECexposed.org, recently highlighted a memo on his "Upcoming Jobs Agenda." He described his agenda as "pursuing a steady repeal of job-destroying regulations ... that have tied the hands of small business people and prevented job growth."

His wish list was sent to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which announced on September 6th that Obama's forthcoming jobs plan should scrap its "aggressive and voluntary regulatory agenda and adopt an immediate moratorium on any regulation that will harm job growth." The committee has already approved the "Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation" (TRAIN) Act.

Pollution Rules to Protect Americans' Health Targeted

Boiler MACTAmong the regulations targeted by Cantor are the new maximum achievable control technology "MACT" standards, known as the "boiler MACT rules" for utility plants. Analysts at the Center for Progressive Reform estimated that these rules "would annually prevent up to nearly 6,600 premature deaths, more than 4,000 non-fatal heart attacks, more than 1,600 cases of acute bronchitis, and more than 313,000 missed work and school days."

Another target is rules regulating what is known as "coal ash," the dirty waste from burning coal. Researchers from the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Sierra Club analyzed groundwater monitoring data collected by state agencies and found that "coal combustion waste (CCW) disposal sites ... have contaminated groundwater or surface water with toxic metals and other pollutants."(Coal ash waste is sometimes called CCW or coal combustion residues (CCR) or even the whitewashed "coal combustion byproducts" (CCB).) According to TruthOut,"the roughly 130 million tons of contaminated coal ash produced by American power plants each year is contained in 431 different impoundments and landfills across the country, and the EPA has identified 49 such sites as 'high hazard' because of their proximity to populated residential areas."

ALEC Alum Cantor Echoes ALEC's Anti-Environmental Protection Agenda

ALEC's legislative strategy guide, the "EPA's Regulatory Train Wreck," criticizes both the proposed EPA regulation of coal combustion ash, which it calls CCR (pp. 13-14), and the "boiler MACT" rules (pp. 18-19). In response, it offers a set of "model" state bills and resolutions against federal regulation, including the "Resolution Opposing EPA's Regulatory Train Wreck" and the "Resolution to Retain State Authority Over Coal Ash as Non-Hazardous Waste." Both of these resolutions were voted on by corporations that paid for a seat on ALEC's Task Force on environmental issues.

Cantor's proposed HR 2273, the "Residuals Reuse and Management Act," would do as ALEC resolves when it "agrees with the U.S. EPA's 2000 final regulatory determination that CCB does not warrant federal regulation as hazardous waste, and that the states are best positioned to continue as the principal regulatory authority of CCB as non-hazardous waste." HB 2273 provides that "each state may adopt and implement a coal combustion residuals permit program" and specifies that "nothing in this Act ... shall be construed to alter in any manner the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory determination. ... (May 22, 2000), that the fossil fuel combustion wastes addressed ... do not warrant regulation under subtitle C of the Solid Waste Disposal Act. ..."

TVA Kingston Fossil Plant fly ash spill (Brian Stansberry, Wikimedia Commons)Over a decade ago, the Clinton Administration declined in the presidential election year to interpret the Solid Waste Disposal Act to regulate the solid waste produced from burning coal and kicked the can down the road to the states. The Bush Administration did not change this approach as part of its energy policy. On December 22, 2008, the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) coal-fired plant in Kingston, Tennessee, spilled 1.1 billion gallons of coal ash into the Emory River in what was called "the largest environmental disaster in American history in the lower 48 states, second only to the Exxon Valdez spill." Since then, the Obama Administration and the EPA have made two proposals to regulate coal ash disposal and storage in order to protect citizens, but they have come under increasing pressure from the industry to continue to do nothing about it. And, ALEC has been at the forefront of the echo chamber attacking the EPA with its "train wreck" report and rhetoric.

Another ALEC model bill voted on by corporations, the "Environmental Priorities Act," would create for the states the same sort of assessment committee that Cantor's HR 2250, the "Regulatory Relief Act," would create at the federal level. ALEC's "Environmental Priorities Council" would "analyze the scientific and economic benefits and costs of current and potential environmental projects and policy options ... using a Copenhagen Consensus-style framework," a framework established by climate change-denier Bjorn Lomborg to belittle the importance of climate change and environmental action. Cantor's HR 2401 "Committee for the Cumulative Analysis of Regulations that Impact Energy and Manufacturing in the United States" would "analyze and report on the cumulative and incremental impacts of certain rules and actions of the Environmental Protection Agency" including "estimates of the impacts of the covered rules and covered actions with regard to the global economic competitiveness of the United States" and on "consumers; small businesses; regional economies; State, local, and tribal governments; local and industry-specific labor markets; and agriculture. "In other words, both bills would create a roadblock to regulation that would effectively give big business a kind of veto or brake on environmental protections that scientists had determined were important to protect Americans' health or the health of our ecosystems."

ALEC's most recent newsletter, "InsideALEC July/August 2011," also contains an article by Michael G. Morris, Chairman and CEO of American Electric Power (p. 11), concluding that "Congress should ask EPA to delay the implementation of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR)," another of the regulations that Cantor's HR 2401 would push back. Another article in the convention edition of the ALEC magazine, by Scott H. Segal, a lobbyist with Bracewell & Giuliani who has represented Ameren (among the nation's biggest investor-owned electric and gas utilities and an ALEC member) and other utilities, concludes that "Congress should act to ensure sufficient time for compliance with a more reasonable and rationale [sic] rule." Cantor's HR 2250 would do exactly that, based on big businesses' view of reasonableness.

Other ALEC alumni on the GOP-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee include Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Mike J. Rogers (R-MI), Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK), Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), Rep. Robert Latta (R-OH), Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA).

The Global Corporate Agenda vs. Actual Job Creation

Cantor's move and ALEC's emphasis on de-regulating protections for Americans' health and the environment comes at a time when September's jobs report is less than encouraging, showing that "every private-sector job created was offset with lost public-sector jobs."

A July CNN survey showed that "small businesses drove much of the employment growth in July." A September 1st McClatchy article gave voice to small business owners, one of whom said that "government regulations are not 'choking' our business. ... In order to do business in today's environment, government regulations are necessary and we must deal with them. The health and safety of our guests depend on regulations. It is the government regulations that help keep things in order."

ALEC's anti-regulatory agenda, which Cantor plans to push through Congress as a so-called "jobs agenda," will hamstring the EPA's regulatory ability, as planned, but there is no independent and demonstrable proof that, in helping large utility companies keep regulators at bay, it will create any significant number of jobs for American workers.

courtesy of Think ProgressIn fact, as Paul Krugman recently pointed out, the EPA's new regulations (such as the smog standards Obama abandoned) would have created new jobs, because "it would have forced firms to spend on upgrading or replacing equipment, helping to boost demand."

According to the Labor Network for Sustainability, "compared with overall spending in the economy, spending on environmental protection and clean-up employs more than twice as many workers in construction (11 percent versus 4 percent) and 25 percent more in manufacturing (20 percent versus 16 percent). Plant closings and layoffs in response to environmental regulation are very rare, affecting only 1/10th of 1 percent of all layoffs nationwide."

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a study which found that "the dollar value of the benefits of the major rules finalized or proposed by the EPA so far during the Obama administration exceeds the rules' costs by an exceptionally wide margin." And in another study relating specifically to the "air toxics rule," EPI found that "claims that this regulation destroys jobs are flat wrong: The jobs-impact of the rule will be modest, but it will be positive."

Rebekah Wilce

Rebekah Wilce is a reporter and researcher who directs CMD's Food Rights Network project.