Republican slams ‘un-American’ agency, sparking brawl

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, July 7, 2016

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing turned into a partisan argument after a Republican called U.S. EPA “un-American.”

Ohio Republican Rep. Bill Johnson made the remark during questioning of EPA acting air chief Janet McCabe, which prompted an outcry by Democrats.

The Subcommittee on Energy and Power’s top Democrat, Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, accused Republicans of “badgering” McCabe.

Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) gave his gavel a workout as lawmakers on both sides raised their voices and spoke over one another.

“Obviously climate change and the regulations are something we all feel very strongly about,” Whitfield said during the hearing. He later added that he didn’t think the session had gotten “out of hand.”

McCabe had been testifying on EPA regulation of the energy sector as the sole witness on the hearing’s first panel. The second panel featured state regulators, a former Department of Energy official who is critical of EPA greenhouse gas rules and a public interest advocate.

Most of the questioning for McCabe focused on the Clean Power Plan, President Obama’s signature rule for limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The Supreme Court in February froze the rule pending the resolution of complex litigation.

Republicans charged that EPA had failed to consider the cumulative impacts of its regulations on power plants and potential job losses.

They also questioned whether EPA was attempting to go around the Supreme Court’s stay by moving forward on related regulations and continuing to offer help to states on compliance.

“One of the problems I’ve had,” Whitfield said, “is the tortuous route that EPA went through to give itself the power to do what it was trying to do.”

But it wasn’t until Johnson questioned McCabe about 90 minutes into the hearing that Democrats began accusing Republicans of being hostile to the EPA official.

When it was his turn to question McCabe, Johnson said the agency’s regulations were “draining the lifeblood” out of U.S. companies and characterized money spent on regulations as a “‘dadgum’ permissions slip” to do business in the country.

“I think it’s absurd. I think it’s irresponsible. Quite honestly, Ms. McCabe, I think it’s un-American,” Johnson said. “You obviously don’t have a concern, and your department doesn’t have a concern, for the economic well-being of the very people that create jobs in this country.”

Johnson also accused McCabe of trying to “ramble on” to deflect his questions about the agency’s engagement with its Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), who spoke after Johnson, said he was “a little taken aback by the hostility I hear in this room.” Then Johnson, with Whitfield’s permission, cut in on Engel’s time, saying it’s “absurd” he was being challenged for being hostile.

As Whitfield banged his gavel for quiet, Rush accused Republicans of being extreme in their questioning of McCabe.

“My side has sat here very patiently and calmly while this witness, who by every indication has worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people, to be called un-American. That’s absurd. That’s extreme,” Rush said.

“There is no place in this hearing for a witness being from the agency, or whatever agency, governmental agency there is, to be called un-American,” he said.

Whitfield defended Johnson’s questioning and said that the Ohio Republican was referring to the agency — not McCabe — as un-American. Members have a right to ask questions of the EPA official, Whitfield argued.

“There are very strong feelings on this issue,” Whitfield said, loudly, “because many people, and we are speaking for our constituents, believe that EPA is exceeding its legal authority under the direction of a president who is trying to impose his will on climate change around the world.”

Emotions bubbled up again in the hearing after questioning by Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma. Mullin told McCabe he had lost a “tremendous amount of respect for EPA” and accused her of making “false” claims about cost projections for the Clean Power Plan.

“I’ve read your bio. You have never worked in the industry,” Mullin said. “You have worked against the industry from day one.”

McCabe, a former air regulator from Indiana, responded: “That is absolutely not true, congressman.”

Rush cut in again to defend McCabe, telling Whitfield to stop the “badgering” of witnesses.

“This hearing is getting way out of hand, and you have to assume responsibility for it,” Rush said. “This witness has been badgered and badgered and badgered and badgered and badgered.”

Whitfield said that the hearing was under control and that he “respectfully” disagreed with the characterization of Republicans as badgering McCabe.

As nearly two hours of questioning wound down, Republican Rep. Billy Long of Missouri attempted to lighten the mood. He said he’d feel “left out” if he didn’t get to raise his voice “at least once today.”

“I want to thank you for being here, and I want to yield back,” Long told McCabe in a loud voice, sparking laughter in the room.