The House and Senate are upping their game Wednesday in conducting broad oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency's contentious regulations, while examining ways to prevent some of its more horrendous flubs such as last summer's toxic spill in Colorado.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee's subcommittee on Superfund, Waste Management, and Regulatory Oversight will conduct a hearing to peer deeply into the agency's "Regulatory Impact Analyses," which form the basis and justification for many of the agency's regulations.
The environment committee has conducted a record number of hearings over the past year to drill down on many of the agency's most contentious rules: the Clean Power Plan and climate change regulations for power plants; the rules for smog-forming ozone, called the most expensive in history; and the Waters of the U.S. rule that makes ditches on private lands subject to EPA enforcement action.
Many of the regulations are being litigated in federal courts and in some cases have been halted. The Senate committee wants to go further than reacting to the rules. It wants to understand the agency's basis for the rules to address the process by which the rules are created and, eventually, be able to stop regulations before they are proposed.
Wednesday will be used to take a look at the agency's regulatory analyses, and listen to expert testimony on the "shortcomings" that have become recurring themes in many of the regulations, according to aides.
Those themes include: the health benefits argument; the increasing use of the Social Cost of Carbon to justify a rule based on the avoided cost of addressing climate change; and finally, EPA's failure to follow statutory guidelines to address the impact of the rules on small business and other groups.
In the House, the tack is a bit different but similar. In the morning, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's environment and waterways subcommittee will dive back into the causes of the Aug. 5 toxic spill that the EPA caused at the Gold King Mine in Colorado. The agency took the blame for releasing 3 million gallons of bright orange waste water into the waterways of three states.
Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, who will run the hearing, wants to focus on improving so-called Good Samaritan laws, which protect private contractors from litigation in performing clean-up efforts in places such as the Gold King Mine. Improvements in the law are needed to incentivize companies employed by states or the EPA to do the work freely without the fear that they could be "hanging out for all kinds of lawsuits and liability, costs," Gibbs told the Washington Examiner.
He says abandoned mines can be found across the nation, including his state of Ohio, that have to be addressed to avoid future spills.
Gibbs said the hearing will be less about assigning blame to the EPA, and more about finding solutions. "It's proactive, I think. We really want to fix a problem. I'm sure there will be questions about what happened in Colorado — why it happened and what they were they doing. I don't think anyone really knows, yet," he says. "I know [EPA] was working with a private entity when they opened up the mine, and they weren't expecting what was behind it, and it blew out.
"This was a huge spill, probably 10 times bigger than the spill in West Virginia a year or so ago, where I think some people actually went to jail," he said. "But that's not the intent of the committee to move to prosecution. But to find out what's happening, and what the challenges are for EPA. Because I don't think the EPA has the resources or technical expertise ... to clean up these abandoned mines."
Oversight continues Thursday in the House Energy and Commerce Committee on the legality of the EPA's power plant rules, which are the basis of the president's climate change agenda. The science committee will hold a oversight hearing on the ozone rules also on Thursday.