WASHINGTON -- Republican presidential candidates are taking aim at the Environmental Protection Agency on the campaign trail, pledging to strip it of the tools to address emissions, and other regulatory functions.
Those pledges come as the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 Monday in American Electric Power v. Connecticut to deny states and environmentalists the right to sue power plants in federal courts over greenhouse gas emissions. While arguably a loss for environmental advocates, the ruling was widely seen as reaffirming the federal environmental agency's authority to regulate emissions.
Days before the high court underscored that regulating greenhouse gases is the EPA's job alone, presidential hopeful Herman Cain vowed to, within the first 30 days of his administration, create a panel of oil and gas officials to instruct the agency in overhauling its permitting program, adding that eliminating the program entirely also “would be an option.”
“I'm going to appoint some commissions for every regulatory agency starting with the EPA,” he told reporters at the liberal Netroots Nation conference. “It's going to be a regulatory reduction commission and ... I will ... take those recommendations and make the process more streamlined as well as eliminate unnecessary regulations. And the people I'm going to appoint to those commissions, for example with the EPA, will be people and businessmen who have been abused by the EPA for the past decade or so.”
“I'm going at the EPA first,” he said, “to speed up that process, so we can get this plan moving and get the oil exploration opened up in the gulf off the coast of Alaska and the outer continental shelf.”
Cain is not only 2012 candidate to proclaim that gutting the EPA would be the first priority of a new administration. In a recent CNN debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) dubbed the regulatory agency the greatest threat to American jobs.
"Every time liberals get into office they pass an omnibus bill of big spending projects," Bachmann said. "What we need to do is pass the mother of all repeal bills, but it's the repeal bill that will get rid of job killing regulations; and I would begin with the EPA because there is no other agency like the EPA, it should really be renamed the 'Job Killing Organization of America.'"
In the first major speech of his GOP presidential campaign, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised an emergency freeze on spending, including significant cuts to the federal environmental watchdog.
"The Environmental Protection Agency is now regulating carbon emissions," he said, "a policy rejected by Congress but putting millions of jobs at risk."
"We don't need the unelected officials at EPA to do what our elected officials in Congress have rejected," he added. "We need less EPA monitoring of our economy. And more monitoring of EPA's affects on our freedom. I will require sunsetting of all federal regulations. Unless specifically sustained by a vote of Congress."
As for what comes after the EPA is gone? Having long since called for the total elimination of the EPA, Newt Gingrich announced during a recent CNN debate that he would replace it with an "Environmental Solutions Agency."
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is less committed to gutting the EPA, or at least less committed a concrete position on the agency. During his time as governor of Utah, he was an outspoken proponent of cap and trade, but has since backtracked on the position, telling Fox News he only supported it because all the other governors were doing it.
"Everybody talked about it. At least a lot of people did," Huntsman said. "Every governor was talking about dealing with emissions back many, many years ago only to find that with the economic implosion, we can't afford anything that is going to put any kind of hamper on economic growth."
Ron Paul, when asked about the role of the EPA in an interview with Slate in 2007, said, "You wouldn't need it," (though he later added that eliminating the agency was not "too high" on his agenda). From the interview:
Environmental protection in the U.S. should function according to the same premise as "prior restraint" in a newspaper. Newspapers can't print anything that's a lie. There has to be recourse. But you don't invite the government in to review every single thing that the print media does with the assumption they might do something wrong. The EPA assumes you might do something wrong; it's a bureaucratic, intrusive approach and it favors those who have political connections
Elise Foley contributed to this report.