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The EPA Is Consulting With Environmentalists? Scandal!

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News

Republicans have had three months to fine-tune their arguments against the Environmental Protection Agency’s big proposal to reign in greenhouse gas pollution from coal industry power plants. Now that Congress is coming back from recess, we’re getting to hear one of those arguments. Apparently House and Senate Republicans are angry that the Administration consulted a well-respected, non-profit environmental advocacy group when devising its proposal.

"The fact that an ideological and partisan group drafted a rule that places a tremendous cost on everyday Americans through increased electricity prices is harmful and outrageous.... Accordingly, these practices must cease immediately," Senator David Vitter, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, and several other Republicans said in a letter.

Issa’s committee, naturally, will soon hold hearings on the matter. It’s not clear what scandal he and his colleagues expect to uncover. The accusations are loosely based on a New York Times report from July documenting how the Natural Resources Defense Council provided the “blueprint” for the EPA draft rule. Almost immediately, the Environmental Protection Agency repudiated the report publicly and in staff-wide e-mails. 

Nobody denies that NRDC might have helped shape the rule. Obama Administration officials speak with advocacy groups when making policy, just like their predecessors and their counterparts on Capitol Hill. That’s called governing. Was that influence “improper”? There is little in the Times report to suggest it. The actual rule the Administration proposed is weaker than a similar proposal NRDC had been circulating publicly. By the time the final rule is issued next year, it’s likely to be weaker still, thanks to lobbing by the coal industry and other interested parties. What Republicans left out of their letter complaining of NRDC’s “unprecedented access” to EPA officials is that not that long ago, the EPA under George W. Bush was accused of lifting oil lobby proposals verbatim in its rulemaking. Of course, that situation was a little different. The oil lobby had billions of dollars in future profits at stake. 

One reason Congress may be making a fuss about the NRDC is that its other  attacks on the EPA rule lack substance. On Tuesday, for example, the Competitive Enterprise Institute suggested in a report that 98 percent of the Obama-era EPA Clean Air Act federal plans have “dubious legitimacy” that put “environmental special interests” ahead of state interests. Ninety-eight percent! It might make for good election-year rhetoric, since it plays into the conservative meme that Barack Obama is a lawless president. But it’s hard to take such attacks seriously.

Rebecca Leber

News from Tuesday

JUSTICE In North Carolina, DNA evidence cleared two mentally disabled men serving time for the rape and murder of an eleven-year-old girl—some thirty years after their convictions. The men had long said their confessions were coerced, and one was awaiting the death penalty. (Jonathan Katz and Erick EckholmNew York Times, Joseph Neff, News and Observer)

HEALTH CARE Massachusetts, the state that got a head start making health insurance nearly universal, has also been the most aggressive about controlling costs. One year into its experiment, the results are promising. (Sarah Kliff, Vox) 

PRIVACY: After hackers leaked nude photos of Kate Upton, Jennifer Lawrence and many other female celebrities, the hashtag "#ifmyphonewerehacked" became popular on Twitter. Kelsey McKinney explains why that is a form of slut-shaming that objectifies women. (Vox) 

EDUCATION: Labor Day marked the beginning of the school year for kids around the country, but in certain states, chronic absenteeism—that is students who miss three or more days of school in a month—is a big problem. See which states' kids miss the most school. (Julia LurieMother Jones

CLIMATE: Halliburton agreed to pay $1.1 billion to people and businesses by the 2010 explosion of the Deep Water Horizon oil rig that killed 11 people and caused millions of gallons of oil to spill into the ocean. (Clifford KraussNew York Times)

Stuff worth reading

Actually, we should still worry about the deficit. Economist William Gale makes a non-hysterical case for continuing to focus on fiscal balance. (Brookings)

Now that's a gas. Rafi Letzter reports that European researchers have come up with a way to modify E. Coli bacteria—yes, the ones in your gut—so that they churn out propane, which is an environmentally friendly fuel source. (Popular Science)

Oops: Cardiff Garcia highlights four graphs, from the Eurozone, Sweden, Norway and Australia, that shows how their respective central banks all messed up and raised interest rates prematurely. (Financial Times)

A repeat of 1998? Ramesh Ponnuru wonders whether the refusal of most Republican candidates to outline a positive policy agenda in the midterm elections could end up costing the party seats, as happened during the 1998 midterms. The editors of National Review also called on GOP candidates to put forward more substantial policies,  

Stories we'll be watching on Wednesday

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services at 4 p.m. releases its annual forecast for national health care spending over the next ten years. It will be interesting to see whether CMS actuaries are as optimistic as all the outside experts who have been hailing the recent slowdown, which is saving the country a huge amount of money. 


Every time Republicans argue food stamp spending is out-of-control, Danny Vinik says to show them this chart. Danny also points out that Ted Cruz will have a hard time distancing himself from a controversial quote that the “average black” doesn’t understand the minimum wage. After all, his dad said it.