How the EPA Is Creating a Political Firestorm in Philly and Pennsylvania
As Mayor Michael Nutter’s national star continues to rise, Philadelphia is being touted as an extraordinarily ‘Green’ city by a federal agency that’s quickly become the most polarizing under President Barack Obama: The Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA just designated Philadelphia a “Green Power Community.” They note we’re the largest city in the country to receive the honor, and it’s for our alternative energy usage; specifically, at least three percent of the city’s energy use is generated by renewable energy—things like solar, wind, low-impact hydropower, geothermal, so on, so forth. And that’s why we received said recognition.
“When I came into office, I pledged to make Philadelphia the greenest city in America, and as the largest city to be designated a Green Power Community, we are well on our way,” Nutter said in a city press release, noting a friendly competition with Washington, D.C.’s mayor over who’s greener. By 2015, Philly plans to up its alternative energy uses to 20 percent—a figure, as noted in a city press release, already met by Philly’s municipal operations.
This comes as several SEPTA stations have received funds to meet LEED standards and the city of Philadelphia invests in environmentally friendly bike lanes using transportation grants.
But needless to say, environmental protections aren’t necessarily the across-the-board joyous celebration the Nutter and Obama Administrations are making them out to be. Unfortunate as it is, by touting Philadelphia’s Green Energy future and celebrating the EPA’s new rules, Mayor Nutter is further polarizing himself in the increasingly partisan 2012 presidential race.
Yesterday the U.S. Senate voted on a bill that would have scrapped recent EPA regulations. Republicans are calling those regulations, mostly mercury and air toxics standards, “job killers.” The Senate measure, introduced by global warming denier James Inhofe (R-OK), was defeated by a 53-46 vote.
Inhofe claimed those voting against his measure were “killing coal in America,” even if, as the EPA has noted, mercury and air toxics standards save about 11,000 people from premature death each year. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in a switch from his previous stand as governor of Massachusetts, signaled support for Inhofe’s bill, though, like many controversial issues, has stayed away from a clear position.
And this isn’t the first time Nutter’s done work with the EPA. Back in October, the mayor went down to D.C. to intervene in support of the EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule. The CSAPR requires 27 states to reduce power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and particle pollution in other states. Called “long overdue” when the rules were finalized about a year ago, they force power plants to “cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and nitrogen oxides by 54 percent from previous 2005 levels.”
The 1990 Clean Air Act ordered the EPA to regulate chemicals. But most of these regulations were held off or delayed by the U.S. Government until now. The EPA, for its part, notes that many of its standards will likely cost the coal industry about $10 billion per year, but save $59-$160 billion per year in healthcare costs.
Additionally: The EPA will have an expanded role in Pennsylvania’s Senate race this year, assuming anyone pays attention to it. Republican candidate Tom Smith, when he shows up in headlines, takes to bashing Senator Bob Casey not just on his cozy relationship with President Obama (which may or may not be a liability for Casey at this point), but for his votes in favor of new EPA standards under Obama’s tenure.
Smith, a former miner and owner of several mining companies, quickly jumped on yesterday’s Senate vote, which Casey voted against, and called the move another example of the “Obama-Casey war on coal.” He continued with the usual catch-phrases, like “job-killing regulations,” and noting “Casey can’t run from his clear and continued support of President Obama’s disastrous economic agenda and hostility toward job creation.” Casey defended yesterday’s vote, saying deregulation is not worth it “at the expense of the health and safety of our children.”
Smith once called climate change, “the biggest hoax the American people have had rammed down their throats in my lifetime.”
The U.S. House has been in on this one, too. In September, it passed the Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation (TRAIN) Act, which would “require the [EPA] to consider economic impacts on polluters when it sets standards concerning how much air pollution is too much.” The Republican House thought it unfair, they said, that only scientific—and not monetary—considerations were made when EPA emissions rules were put into effect.
Pennsylvania Senator and Romney-backer Pat Toomey has similarly slammed the EPA for killing jobs. He’s critical of formerly Republican-backed cap and trade legislation, and has noted that global warming probably isn’t man made, having once stated, “There is much debate in the scientific community as to the precise sources of global warming.” Similarly, he has consistently voted to bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
But the disapproval votes in Congress seem to be doing little to shame the EPA into stopping its newfound freedom. The Philadelphia region has been getting grants totaling millions of dollars from the Agency, which includes $1.2 million last December for SEPTA to reduce diesel emissions and $200,000 a couple months back to make the area in and around South Philadelphia’s George W. Nebinger School “greener and healthier.” Not to mention Philadelphia City Council’s recent passing of a resolution supporting the Clean Air Act and a Penn State study which noted “Climate change in Pennsylvania will cause more heat-related deaths and an increase in ground-level ozone, which is linked to higher incidences of respiratory disease and death.”