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Obama Environment Agenda Under Threat from Incoming Republicans

Environmental agencies brace themselves for aggressive investigations after expected Republican majority in midterms

Suzanne Goldenberg

Darrell Issa and other Republicans have threatened to revisit last year's climate science controversy sparked by hacked emails out of University of East Anglia. (Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

Republican leaders have begun gathering evidence for sweeping
investigations of Barack Obama's environmental agenda, from climate
science to the BP oil spill, if as expected, they take control of the
House of Representatives in the 2 November mid-term elections, the
Guardian has learned.

The new Congress will not be installed until
next January, but Democrats and environmental organisations say they
are braced for multiple, aggressive investigations from the incoming
Republican majority.

Republican leaders have also raised the
possibility of disbanding the global warming committee in Congress,
established by the Democratic speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

"We are
already getting posturing from some of the potential committee chairs
that they will turn their committees into investigating committees,"
said Kate Gordon, who oversees energy policy at the Centre for American Progress Action Fund. "I think there is a potential for the EPA and the entire administration to be called into hearing after hearing after hearing."

Staff working for Darrell Issa, the California Republican
poised to head the powerful house oversight and investigation
committee, have already contacted a watchdog group that is suing the Obama administration for emails and memos related to the BP spill.

and other Republican leaders have also said they are looking for ways
to revisit last year's climate science controversy, sparked by hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia.

Ruch, the director of Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility, said his organisation had been contacted by Issa's staff
looking into charges that the Obama administration knowingly played
down estimates of the oil spill.

He said he expected a far more
aggressive investigation than any of those seen so far. "They won't pull
punches and will put people under oath and will pursue it until they
get something," Ruch said. "They will be looking for heads, not just the

The investigative zeal is fuelled by the rise of Tea Party candidates for whom climate change denial verges on an article of faith.

think a clear majority does not accept human causality in climate
change. It's definitely not within the orthodoxy of conservatism as
presented by Sarah Palin and folks like her," Bob Inglis, a Republican
member of the house science and technology committee who lost to a Tea
Party candidate, told NPR.

A Pew Research Centre poll last week showed just 16% of Republicans say the earth is warming because of human activity, compared to 53% for Democrats.

The Tea Party candidates also tend to be fiercely opposed to government regulation.

combination – libertarian and anti-climate science – puts the EPA at
the top of a Republican hit-list that seeks to limit the authority of
the agency.

Already, a number of Republican leaders have demanded the EPA chief, Lisa Jackson,
justify the potential cost to industry or employment of dozens of
pollution controls – not just those regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

have made it clear they are going to go hog-wild in investigating the
EPA," a lobbyist for an environmental organisation said. "They said they
want to keep Lisa Jackson tied up in a chair in front of Congress

In a Washington Times piece, Fred Upton,
a Michigan Republican who is the favourite to head the energy and
commerce committee, accused the EPA of over-reaching regulations that
were costing Americans their jobs.

"If the EPA continues unabated,
jobs will be shipped to China and India as energy costs skyrocket. Most
of the media attention has focused on the EPA's efforts to regulate
climate-change emissions, but that is just the beginning," he wrote.

Upton's main rival for committee post, Texan Joe Barton, wrote a letter
to the agency demanding a review of the potential costs to industry and
effects on unemployment of dozens of regulations."

Barton's list
does not stop at greenhouse gas emissions, but would force the EPA to
justify the potential costs to industry of tightening standards for
hazardous air pollution from oil refineries, chemical factories, or
mining operations as well as hospital incinerators that dispose of
medical and infectious waste.

It also asks the EPA to re-visit regulations governing the use of leaded aviation fuels, or airborne mercury pollution.

A number of Republican leaders have also said they would immediately disband the select committee on global warming.

American people do not need Congress to spend millions of dollars to
write reports and fly around the world. We must terminate this wasteful
committee," Upton wrote.

However, other Republicans including Jim
Sensenbreener, a Wisconsin Republican, want to keep the committee, but
as a platform to review climate science and the controversy over the
hacked emails from East Anglia.

"They want to continue a 20-year
assault on climate research, questioning basic science and promoting
doubt where there is none," Michael Mann, a climate scientist at
Pennsylvania State University, wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece.

Some people to watch

Fred Upton:
Michigan Republican who was first elected in 1986, favoured to lead the
Energy and Commerce Committee. Says the EPA has gone too far, but does
believe global warming is real. He told the energy committee early last
year: "I have said at nearly every climate change hearing that for me I
don't dispute the science. Right or wrong, the debate over the modelling
and science appears to be over."

Joe Barton:
First elected in Texas in 1984. Won notoriety this summer when he
apologised to BP's Tony Hayward for the White House deal establishing a
$20bn oil clean-up fund. Barton called the fund a "shakedown". If denied
the energy and commerce committee, Barton could be a contender to head
the science committee, which would provide a platform for climate
science deniers.

Darrell Issa: A high school
drop-out who was arrested in his youth for stealing a Maserati, Issa,
who represents the San Diego area, was first elected in 2000. The senior
Republican on the House oversight and investigations committee, he says
it is time to give a closer look to climate science. "That doesn't mean
that global warming isn't happening," Issa told The Hill last month.
"It means that we have to make sure that when we recalibrate what's
happening, why it's happening, how much it's happening, we need to
ensure that we get a careful relook at the figures so that we're

Jim Sensenbrenner: Senior Republican
from Wisconsin who is on the select committee on energy independence and
global warming, and would like to take it over – even though he does
not believe in global warming. At the height of the controversy over
hacked emails from East Anglia last year, he warned of "a massive
international scientific fraud" and science "fascism".

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