Thursday, October 06, 2005

An update on "Smokey Joe" Barton's dirty-air legislation

I guess there’s a reason the Dallas Morning News nicknamed him “Smokey Joe” Barton. There sure as heck is a lot of smoke wafting from Barton’s office these days. He is planning a press conference this afternoon – I assume to continue some of his hazy assertions about how he really only cares about the “people who work for a living.” See at http://energycommerce.house.gov/ It might be worth contrasting that rhetoric with the fact that DC’s biggest fat-cat polluter lobbyists are roaming the halls of Congress trying to drum up votes for Barton. (Please let us know if you haven’t seen the lobbying materials distributed by the Edison Electric Institute aimed at helping Barton.)

On the substance, one more time here for the record: Barton’s “GAS” act (now scheduled to come up on the House floor at 9 am tomorrow) includes provisions that would allow big smokestack polluters to increase their real-world emissions. I won’t go into technicalities here, but his bill – at the specific request of the White House – includes a double-barreled assault on the Clean Air Act’s new source review provisions by creating two new gigantic loopholes long sought by big polluters, including some of the nation’s dirtiest electric power companies. These include weakening changes that have been blocked by the courts. Barton has asserted that the maximum “rate” of pollution won’t increase under his plan. This is a smokescreen argument aimed at confusing people.

His changes would permit big polluters – and not just refineries – to increase their real-world emissions. What he’s doing would be like raising the speed limit, and then arguing people won’t drive faster. And on top of that letting speeders avoid tickets at the new limit by saying they were only making “routine” trips.

Today’s Washington Post story (which includes an oil industry spokesman saying they wouldn’t necessarily increase refinery production if the bill passed) helps point this gambit out for what it really is – an effort to exploit the hurricane tragedy to jam through some special-interest breaks that could never pass otherwise.

A couple other items of note: 9 state attorneys general [New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont and Wisconsin] have a letter out calling on Congress to kill the Barton bill. Please let me know if you want a copy.

And one quick final (for now) political observation: the key players in tomorrow’s vote may be Republican moderates, who have been shackled for years by the intimidating and now-indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX).

Tomorrow’s vote will be a real test for new House Republican Leader Roy Blunt (R-MO). His mission is to beat the Republican moderates into keeping party solidarity behind Barton and President Bush. Will Republican moderates march robotically with Blunt into a smoky future – or will they show some long-absent independence? One interesting clue: Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) sent a "dear colleague" letter today, urging his colleagues to reject the Barton bill.

We will all stay tuned.

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