Battling Obama’s Regulatory Onslaught Through Oversight

Published November 18, 2015

As chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, I have been committed to conducting vigorous oversight of President Barack Obama’s climate agenda.

This agenda is counter to the interests of the American people, science, and common sense. It will cost billions of dollars and put our economy in a straightjacket while harming those most vulnerable.

To understand what is ahead for our economy in the name of global warming alarmism, we must look critically at what led the administration to enact the current level of regulatory overreach in the first place.

Obama’s 2008 campaign commitment to address climate change was driven by promises to far-left donors with investments in renewable energy sources looking to make a return on their investment by phasing out fossil fuels. It is no surprise in his first year of office Obama pushed cap-and-trade legislation through a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives; forced his handpicked, unelected bureaucrats in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a dubious endangerment finding for greenhouse gases; and made an aggressive international commitment to reduce U.S. greenhouse gases.

However, Obama fell short of achieving an official international climate treaty, and after cap-and-trade legislation died in Congress, the president had EPA settle lawsuits filed by environmentalists by agreeing to take climate action favored by radical environmental activists. The December 2010 “sue and settle” agreement placed climate action in the hands of the administration, setting in motion a regulatory regime absent any transparency or accountability. This regime is one I am committed to exposing to the American people.

‘Rules Lack Transparency’

Looking first at how Obama’s carbon rules lack transparency, the art of “sue-and-settle” tactics shuts out the public and interested parties from negotiations on how the federal government will issue a regulation. For more than two years, EPA tweaked deadlines and terms of the agreement on future carbon regulations without any public consideration or knowledge.

Documents obtained by my committee demonstrate EPA and environmentalists coordinated a specific public message regarding their negotiations, often misleading the public, the media, and Congress about the future timing and substance of climate regulatory actions. Even more egregious, instead of relying on their own staff, EPA worked with activists to sell a climate change agenda to the public, develop technical aspects of the rules, shape public policy, and attempt to shore up the shaky legal basis for carbon rules.

The lack of transparency regarding the creation of new carbon rules extends to EPA’s selective economic analysis and science, well beyond the “sue-and-settle” framework. Sue-and-settle led to an unrealistic deadline for issuing carbon dioxide regulations that short-circuited important economic analyses and interagency reviews intended to strengthen the integrity of rulemaking decisions.

Unsubstantiated Claims of Benefits

EPA’s carbon rules were also based on purported climate benefits derived from the social cost of carbon. This formula was developed behind closed doors by an unidentified group of administration officials. To date, we have no idea who participated or how many resources were devoted to this effort. Rather, the Obama administration buried the figure in rules—absent any public participation or peer review.

Just as concerning, EPA purports health benefits of the rules from reduced particulate matter and ozone—not a reduction of carbon dioxide—based on studies unavailable to the public. These studies, better known as “secret science” at EPA, have been used in nearly every major air regulation from EPA since 1997. They are based on data that are more than 30 years old and are not available to the public for independent analysis.  

Decisions imposing hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in cost cannot wait for potential errors or biases to be discovered decades later. For too long, EPA has ignored science that either challenges the agency’s policies or does not provide a clear path to regulation. Instead, EPA has relied on the work of handpicked scientists and studies giving EPA the answers it needs to justify an aggressive regulatory agenda. 

Accountability Lacking

We must also look at how Obama’s carbon rules lack accountability. EPA maneuvered deadlines through “sue-and-settle” to allow the agency to push back implementation dates until after those involved in developing the rules could be held accountable. EPA essentially kicked the can to the next administration.

Further, through “sue-and-settle,” EPA limited the role of interested parties and states to a cursory public comment period on the proposed settlement agreement and failed to even respond to comments. Officials involved in developing the rules did not fit the traditional, highly specialized, neutral civil-servant model—accountable to the American people. Rather, they sought technical and legal guidance from outside groups and cut corners, costing significant taxpayer dollars in agency resources, as well as out-of-pocket costs for impacted parties as a result of regulatory uncertainty.

The Obama administration has not been forthright with the American people in its regulatory agenda. Its rulemaking process has resulted in legally questionable regulations, opening the door for further litigation, expending more taxpayer dollars and agency resources, and ultimately stalling meaningful environmental and public health benefits.

When Americans are forced to foot the bill for billion-dollar regulations, they have a right to participate in the process and know the policies selected are based on sound science and thoughtful analysis. As chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, I commit to protect those rights.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) is chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and senior member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.