Latham, King and Boswell back another bill to undermine EPA

The U.S. House has again approved legislation to restrict Environmental Protection Agency pollution controls. H.R. 2681, also known as the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011, would delay some new air pollution regulations for cement plants. The 237 Republicans and 25 Democrats supporting final passage of the on October 6 included Iowa Representatives Tom Latham (IA-04), Steve King (IA-05) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03). Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) stood with the majority of House Democrats against the bill.

Boswell has not commented publicly on his latest vote against EPA rules. Roll calls from the House floor debate on H.R. 2681 suggest that in contrast to Latham and King, Boswell was less than fully supportive of the measure. More details are after the jump, along with a nice spin attempt by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The stated goal of H.R. 2681 is to give "federal regulators additional time and guidelines to develop achievable rules governing emissions from cement manufacturing facilities." House Republicans and some Democrats claim the delay is needed "to prevent plant shutdowns and protect jobs." A House Energy and Commerce Committee fact sheet made the case for the bill:

Rules: On September 9, 2010, EPA published its National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants From the Portland Cement Manufacturing Industry and Standards of Performance for Portland Cement Plants (commonly referred to as the "Cement MACT" or "Cement NESHAP") under Sections 111 and 112 of the Clean Air Act.  This rule amends the agency's "maximum achievable control technology" and performance standards for cement kilns.  On March 21, 2011, EPA published two additional rules impacting the cement manufacturing sector: (1) Standards of Performance and Emissions Guidelines for Existing Sources: Commercial and Industrial Solid Waste Incineration Units ("CISWI Rule") under Section 129 of the Clean Air Act, and (2) Identification of Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials That Are Solid Waste ("NHSM Rule") under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The NHSM Rule defines non-hazardous secondary materials as fuel or waste, which determines whether an emissions source will be regulated under Section 112 or Section 129 of the Clean Air Act. [...]

Regulatory Impacts: The EPA rules will affect approximately 100 Portland cement manufacturing plants located across the United States.  The Portland Cement Association has concluded that all plants will be required to make investments in new equipment to comply with the recent rules.  The association estimates that six plants would be required to spend in excess of $100 million to reach compliance.

Economic and Job Impacts: EPA estimates the Cement MACT rule alone will cost $2.2 billion. The agency also estimates that as a result of the rule, 12 plants may be "idled" or permanently shut down, national average prices for Portland cement may increase 5.4 percent, domestic production may fall 11 percent, annual operating profits may fall by $241 million, and up to 1,500 jobs could be lost.  The Portland Cement Association projects the sector and its workers will pay an even higher price: costs of $3.4 billion by 2013, and an additional $2 billion to comply with the CISWI rule, so that the combined costs of the rules would be $5.4 billion in the coming years. Further, the association projects that up to 18 plants could be forced to shut down by 2013, representing almost 20 percent of the domestic cement manufacturing industry, and that direct job losses resulting from the combined rules could range from 3,000 to 4,000 jobs, while job losses in the construction sector could be 12,000 to 19,000 jobs due to higher construction costs.  At least one company has already publicly announced that, due to the regulatory uncertainties of the rules, it is halting work on construction of a new, state-of-the-art cement kiln, suspending over $350 million in new investment and creation of over 1,500 construction jobs.  

This fact sheet relies on cement industry estimates about the cost of compliance, ignoring the public health and economic benefits from reducing hazardous air pollutants. Regina McCarthy, the EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation programs, spoke against this bill at a Congressional hearing last month. Excerpt from her testimony (pdf file):

Chairman Whitfield, Ranking Member Rush, and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to testify today regarding the EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011, and the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on these legislative initiatives, initiatives that are a direct attack at the core of the Clean Air Act.

These two bills would roll back existing Clean Air Act public health protections. We have a number of serious concerns about these bills. Most importantly, they would indefinitely delay the important health benefits associated with rules that establish national limits on emissions of air toxics, including mercury, from certain boilers, solid waste incinerators, and cement kilns. Depending on the degree to which people are exposed, air toxics may be associated with numerous adverse effects, including cancers, respiratory, neurological or developmental effects, and reproductive dysfunction. Mercury and other toxic emissions also damage the environment, polluting our nation's lakes and streams, and contaminating fish. Mercury in fish is a particular concern for women of childbearing age, unborn babies and young children, because high levels of methylmercury are linked to damage to the developing nervous system. This damage can impair children's ability to think and learn. [...]

In the last year alone, programs implemented pursuant to the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 are estimated to have reduced premature mortality risks equivalent to saving over 160,000 lives; spared Americans more than 100,000 hospital visits; and prevented millions of cases of respiratory problems, including bronchitis and asthma.1 They also enhanced productivity by preventing 13 million lost workdays; and kept kids healthy and in school, avoiding 3.2 million lost school days due to respiratory illness and other diseases caused or exacerbated by air pollution.2

However, few of the emission control standards that gave us these huge gains in public health were uncontroversial at the time they were developed and promulgated. Most major rules have been adopted amidst claims that that they would be bad for the economy and bad for employment. [...]

Some would have us believe that "job-killing" describes EPA's regulations. It is terrifically misleading to say that enforcement of the Clean Air Act costs jobs. It doesn't. Families should never have to choose between a job and healthy air. They are entitled to both. Studies led by Harvard economist Dale Jorgenson in 2001 to 2002 found that implementing the Clean Air Act actually increased the size of the US economy because of lower demand for health care and a healthier, more productive workforce.5 By 2030 the Clean Air Act will have prevented 3.3 million work days lost and avoided the cost of 20,000 hospitalizations every year, based on recent EPA estimates.6 [...]

Supporters of H.R. 2681 also ignore the fact that the EPA was legally required to adopt new rules on cement plants. The Clean Air Act includes a section added in 1990 "specifically to address emissions from burning solid waste." A U.S. Court of Appeals ruling vacated an EPA rule issued during George W. Bush's administration, which excluded certain types of combustion units from the definition of solid waste incinerators. EPA regulators didn't decide out of the blue that 2011 would be a good time to adopt tougher rules for cement plants. Those rules were a direct response to the appeals court ruling, which itself relied on legislative intent.

Many House Democrats argued against delaying the cement plant regulations, citing preventable deaths, diseases and birth defects caused by air pollution. But 25 Democrats, including Iowa's Leonard Boswell, were part of the 262 to 161 majority that approved the House approved the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act.

I mentioned above that Boswell didn't seem to be 100 percent behind this bill. For one thing, he didn't co-sponsor the measure (some Democrats did). Nor did he vote with Republicans when the House debated the bill. Nearly 20 Democrats voted with Republicans for a resolution bringing H.R. 2681 to the floor, but Boswell wasn't one of them.

House Democrats offered lots of amendments to make this terrible bill slightly less bad. Pete Kasperowicz summarized many of those amendments here and here. The chamber rejected them all on October 5 and 6, but if you look at roll call votes 747 through 762, you'll see that Boswell voted for every Democratic amendment except for this one, which would have added a new section to the bill about EPA findings on health benefits from regulating pollution.

Just before final passage of the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act, Boswell voted with most fellow Democrats for the "motion to recommit with instructions." That's Congress-speak for the House minority's last attempt to kill legislation. In contrast, nine House Democrats opposed their own party's last stand against this bill.

Boswell did vote for H.R. 2681 in the end, just like he supported other legislation this year to roll back Clean Air Act protections and make it harder for the federal government to enforce the Clean Water Act. He hasn't bragged about those votes, so I doubt he's proud of them. My best guess is that Boswell doesn't want to give Latham or corporate interest groups fodder for 2012 attack ads about so-called "job-killing regulations."

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

P.S. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee used some impressive sleight of hand in nearly-identical press releases blasting Latham and King for this vote. Excerpt:

Today, Representative Tom Latham (IA-04) voted against protecting infants, children and pregnant women from harmful and potentially life threatening and cancer-causing toxins. Latham voted to block a measure that would require cement plants to reduce their emission of toxic air pollutants near schools, day care centers, playgrounds, and maternity wards. His opposition would delay these protections and could result in thousands of premature deaths and asthma attacks.

"People shouldn't have to worry about the air infants, children, and pregnant women are breathing because of Representative Tom Latham's unwillingness to protect them from dangerous toxins," said Jesse Ferguson of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Latham is choosing to endanger the public health of infants, children and pregnant women, and that doesn't reflect Iowa's families priorities. Representative Latham's radical agenda has gone too far because he voted to put the health and safety of our children at risk with these dangerous toxins."

Earlier in the year, Latham opposed common-sense protections to ensure the safety of America's food, drinking water, and children's toys. Now, Latham opposes common-sense protections requiring the reduction of harmful air pollutants.  


*        Today, Representative Tom Latham opposed a measure that would have kept in place protections on air pollution from cement kilns "within 5 miles of any school, any day care center, any playground or any hospital with a maternity ward or neo-natal unit." The measure was offered by Representative Lois [Capps]. [HR 2681, Vote #763, 10/6/11]

The press release linked to House vote number 763, on the motion to recommit H.R. 2681 with instructions. All but nine House Democrats voted for that motion to recommit. Naturally, the DCCC wouldn't want to link to House Vote number 764, which shows that 25 Democrats voted for final passage of the bill. By the logic of the DCCC's press release, every one of those Democrats, including Boswell, should be blasted for opposing "common-sense protections requiring the reduction of harmful air pollutants."

  • Obnoxious...

    this is serious stuff. Just a tiny bit of mercury can contaminate an entire pond. Breathing it isn't better. I can't believe the Dems have fallen for the "regulation kills jobs" meme. If anything, this could be the opportunity to create "green" jobs, not to mention save on health care costs related to mercury poisoning. Ugh.  

    • most of the House Democrats

      had the sense to vote against the bill, but not enough of them are brave enough to go out and make a public case for these regulations.

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