Platform would hand regs to states, turn EPA into commission

Source: Geof Koss, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 20, 2016

CLEVELAND — The 2016 Republican platform that party leaders adopted here yesterday envisions a reorganization of U.S. EPA into an independent commission, with primary regulatory authority over the environment handed to state governments.

The 66-page document, formally approved on the first day of the Republican National Convention, echoes many familiar GOP themes on energy from recent years, including opening more public lands to production, easing federal regulations and reforming key environmental statutes.

While Republicans have long clamored for a greater role for states in protecting the environment, the platform adds a wrinkle by proposing the restructuring of EPA, which has been the party’s poster child for government abuse throughout the Obama administration.

“We propose to shift responsibility for environmental regulation from the federal bureaucracy to the states and to transform the EPA into an independent bipartisan commission, similar to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, with structural safeguards against politicized science,” the platform says.

Even though the platform does not elaborate on the new EPA, comparisons to the NRC are telling. The commission is one of a handful of federal regulators that exist with a degree of independence because their rules are not subject to review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

And as with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Democrats and Republicans alternate in selecting NRC commissioners, with the party that controls the White House having a majority. The president selects the chairman.

Environmentalists slammed the proposal. “If this extremist platform were ever actually implemented, it would imperil clean air and clean water for all Americans,” said Sierra Club Political Director Khalid Pitts in a statement.

“Donald Trump has vowed to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, and now the Republican Party has codified a radical and dangerous path to enable Trump and his anti-environmental ideology,” he said.

The platform further vows to “strictly limit congressional delegation of rule-making authority” — a nod to the “REINS Act,” a recurring effort on Capitol Hill to require legislative approval of regulations with major annual economic impacts. The platform doesn’t mention the legislation by name but does mention a related proposal, the “Regulation Freedom Amendment.”

In the section that proposes changes to EPA, titled “Environmental Progress,” Republicans also vow to end “sue and settle” tactics that party members say environmentalists use to force regulatory changes.

“That deceit betrays the public’s trust; it will no longer be tolerated,” states the platform. It pledges reforms to the Equal Access to Justice Act, which allows environmental plaintiffs to recoup attorney fees used in litigation over rules.

Air, water, NEPA

The joint EPA-Army Corps of Engineers Clean Water Act jurisdiction rule makes several appearances in the platform, which pledges that Republicans “will enforce the original intent of the Clean Water Act, not its distortion by EPA regulations.” The rule, currently stayed nationally by a federal appeals court, is labeled a “travesty” in the Republican plan.

“We must never allow federal agencies to seize control of state waters, watersheds, or groundwater,” it says. “State waters, watersheds, and groundwater must be the purview of the sovereign states.”

The platform also promises to “forbid” EPA from regulating carbon dioxide and “restore” congressional authority to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards under the Clean Air Act. Under current law, EPA is not allowed to consider economic factors in setting ozone standards.

Republicans are also pledging to “modernize” the permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act “so it can no longer invite frivolous lawsuits, thwart sorely needed projects, kill jobs, and strangle growth.”

The platform takes shots at Democratic energy policies, which it says can be summed up by the push by environmentalists to “keep it in the ground.”

“Keeping energy in the earth will keep jobs out of reach of those who need them most,” it states. “For low-income Americans, expensive energy means colder homes in the winter and hotter homes in the summer, less mobility in employment, and higher food prices.”

Noting surging U.S. oil and gas production, Republicans reiterate long-standing calls for opening federal resources, including in the outer continental shelf, while giving authority to state regulators “to manage energy resources on federally controlled public lands within their respective borders.”

The plan criticizes President Obama for killing the Keystone XL pipeline “to satisfy environmental extremists.” “We intend to finish that pipeline and others as part of our commitment to North American energy security,” the platform states.

Renewables, species, transportation

It also criticizes Defense Department goals of generating 25 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2025. “Climate change is far from this nation’s most pressing national security issue. This is the triumph of extremism over common sense, and Congress must stop it,” says the platform.

Republicans tout “the development of all forms of energy that are marketable in a free economy without subsidies, including coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear power, and hydropower,” while encouraging the “cost-effective development of renewable energy sources — wind, solar, biomass, biofuel, geothermal, and tidal energy — by private capital.”

Even though the platform doesn’t mention Yucca Mountain by name, it pledges “we will end the Administration’s disregard of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act with respect to the long-term storage of nuclear waste.”

And while GOP support for trade pacts has cooled in recent years, the platform emphasizes that Republicans “remain committed to aggressively expanding trade opportunities and opening new markets for American energy through multilateral and bilateral agreements, whether current, pending, or negotiated in the future.”

The platform additionally calls for an expedited siting process and “thoughtful expansion” of the electric grid. And it urges the enactment of GOP legislation to encourage states to protect their power systems from electromagnetic pulses.

To limit the expansion of national monuments, the Antiquities Act would be overhauled to require congressional approval of new sites and host state concurrence.

Acknowledging the need to protect some species, the platform says the Endangered Species Act should be reformed to exclude plants and animals, such as gray wolves, “if these species exist elsewhere in healthy numbers in another state or country.”

Republicans single out for opposition the listing of the lesser prairie chicken and possible listing of the sage grouse as unnecessary.

“While species threatened with extinction must be protected under the ESA, any such protection must be done in a reasonable and transparent manner with stakeholder input and in consideration of the impact on the development of lands and natural resources,” says the platform.

On transportation, the document calls for the removal of Highway Trust Fund programs “that should not be the business of the federal government,” including the phaseout of federal transit initiatives. It also promises permitting reforms to curb project delays.

Republicans are calling for regulators to allow private companies to offer rail service in the Northeast to compete with Amtrak and intercity rail nationwide. And they want an end to federal support for “boondoggles like California’s high-speed train to nowhere.”