Republicans’ anti-green agenda By Suzanne Goldenberg - Monday, March 07, 2011

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IT started on a sultry day in Houston when hundreds of protesters, mostly oil company employees, were bussed to a concert hall in their lunch hour to rally against a historic first step by Congress to reduce the pollution that causes climate change.

The event marked the start of a backlash by wealthy industry owners and conservative activists against Barack Obama’s green agenda. Now it has snowballed into what green campaigners say is the greatest assault on environmental protection that America has ever seen.

Eighteen months after that Houston rally, the green agenda is under assault on multiple fronts, from cutbacks in recycling in Wisconsin to the loosening of regulations governing coal mining in West Virginia and a challenge to the authority of the White House and federal government to act on climate change.

“This is almost unprecedented in environmental history, in that they are moving in so many directions and in so many ways to effect the same results that even if they are only partly successful, it will still have a serious outcome,” said Bill Becker, secretary of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which monitors air pollution.

“It is as if they are trying to throw as much slop against a wall as they can and hoping some of it sticks in the end. The more they throw the more they feel may stick, and they are throwing quite a bit.”

On Thursday Republicans introduced bills in both houses of Congress to strip the Obama administration of its powers to act on climate change. The bill introduced in the House and the Senate would bar the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from using existing air pollution laws to reduce carbon dioxide.

It would stop the EPA from regulating carbon emissions from power plants and factories. It would not strike down a deal, reached between the White House and car makers, to reduce car emissions. But it would allow no further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from cars once that deal runs out in 2016.

“The energy tax prevention act stops cap-and-trade regulations from taking effect once and for all,” said James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who is the Senate’s most vocal climate change denier.

The bill is expected to pass easily in the House — where the Republicans are the majority, and where the bill has already gained support from a number of Democratic leaders. It will have a harder time in the Senate, where Democrats have a narrow majority.

But the bill represents only one line of attack. Last month’s Republican spending proposal, which set out $61bn in cuts, reserved the biggest cut of any government agency for the EPA: $3bn, or 30 per cent of its budget.

The brunt of the cuts are intended to starve the EPA of the funds it would need to begin regulating carbon dioxide.

But the proposals would also do away with funds for protecting salmon in San Francisco bay, or treating sewage going into Florida’s lakes. It would weaken rules for mercury pollution from cement kilns, and allow wolf hunting once again. The proposals would also redirect $900m, raised from the proceeds of oil leases, which traditionally has been used to maintain state parks.

Campaigners say the cuts go far deeper than any enacted under George Bush, who was notorious for blocking action on global warming and for a more general opposition to government regulation of industry.

The cuts have even invaded the White House. The Republican proposal cut off funding for the post of Obama’s energy and climate adviser and the State Department envoy to the UN climate negotiations. The White House downgraded the post of climate adviser last week, transferring the job to a section of the domestic policy council.

— The Guardian, London

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