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Public Statements

Domestic Energy and Jobs Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. CONNOLLY of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, throughout the 112th Congress, the Republican leadership has invested a staggering amount of time and effort into gutting our Nation's clean water and air protections. As of this month, this House has voted 247 times in support of anti-environmental bills, amendments, and riders, including 77 votes devoted to dismantling the Clean Air Act alone.

As we debate yet another bill that seeks to gut the public health and welfare protections provided by that act and as we witness Democratic attempts to protect public health get defeated time and again on party-line votes, one is tempted to cynically dismiss H.R. 4480 as the Republican leadership's latest offering to their good friends in Big Oil. However, this bill contains an interesting provision that gave me pause, frankly, since it seems to hint that disagreements over protecting public health, when setting national ambient air quality standards, may actually stem from fundamental philosophical differences between the two parties.

One provision in particular begs for clarification since it's not every day that Republicans starkly disagree with Justice Antonin Scalia in regard to statutory interpretation as they do in section 206 of this bill. As written, that section would amend section 109(b) of the Clean Air Act to require the administrator of the EPA to take feasibility and costs into consideration when prescribing air quality standards that are requisite to protect public health.

Now, I'm aware that the author of this provision believes that this language merely clarifies supposed ambiguity in the act, going so far as to assert during the May 17 markup:

The only reason costs are not being considered in setting standards there today is because the Supreme Court said the language was ambiguous.

Mr. Chairman, I must respectfully disagree with that interpretation since Justice Scalia's statutory interpretation of section 109(b) was anything but ambiguous.

To quote Justice Scalia's unanimous opinion in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, Inc., in regard to potentially considering cost when setting ambient air quality standards to protect public health, he said:

The cost factor is both so indirectly related to public health and so full of potential for canceling the conclusions drawn from direct health effects, that it would have been expressly mentioned in sections 108 and 109 had Congress meant it to be considered.

Even more to the point, the very first sentence of Justice Scalia's opinion says:

Section 109(b) does not permit the administrator to consider implementation costs in setting national ambient air quality standards.

This would seem to put aside any ambiguity.

That brings us to my simple amendment. Since Justice Scalia's opinion was crystal clear that the costs cannot be considered when setting those standards to protect public health, I couldn't figure out why my Republican colleagues were so committed to forcing the administrator to take those very factors into account. But then it dawned on me that since the Clean Air Act actually never defines the term ``public health,'' perhaps there is some confusion concerning who or what comprises the public. After all, if one believes that corporations are people, then the term ``public health'' would obviously have a different meaning to that individual compared to my own or Justice Scalia's.

Thus, my simple amendment would clarify the term ``public health'' in the Clean Air Act only as it pertains to the health of people and not corporations or other nonliving entities, and it's a simple fix to clear any confusion and restate congressional intent. By adopting this amendment, Mr. Chairman, Congress can reaffirm the principle that corporations are not people and ensure the lack of definition for the term ``public health'' in the Clean Air Act does not cause any confusion, particularly for certain individuals who may be under the misguided impression that corporations are, indeed, people.

I urge my colleagues to support this simple amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. CONNOLLY of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I rise to offer this amendment on behalf of my colleague, Congressman John Lewis.

Before I begin, I'd like to invite my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to refer to their pocket Constitutions, specifically page 21. There they'll find the First Amendment, which reads, and I quote:

Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I may be mistaken, Mr. Chairman, but when we read the Constitution, read it aloud here on the floor at the start of this Congress, a bipartisan exercise in which I was privileged to participate, I don't recall there being an asterisk at the end of the First Amendment saying, except, of course, if your petition stands in the way of Big Oil. Yet, the language in this bill creates a brand new, $5,000 protest fee for any American citizen to challenge the granting of a drilling lease, right of way or permit.

I don't know about my colleagues, but that seems like we're abridging the freedom of speech and the right to petition the government for redress of a grievance. Once again, the Republicans in the House are happy to rush by the rights of the public to benefit their big friends in Big Oil. This is a capricious tax, at best, on the peaceable right to protest an act of the government that someone believes might harm the environment.

Not surprisingly, the bill does not apply a similar protest fee on someone who might want to protest the denial of a drilling lease or permit. One wonders why? Could it be that would be a tax on industry?

Mr. Chairman, the Bureau of Land Management objected to this fee in its testimony to the committee on this legislation, citing it as an inappropriate economic barrier to the public to seek judicial review or redress of an agency decision.

I agree with that statement, but I don't think it goes far enough. It doesn't fully capture the full ramifications of it. It would trample on the First Amendment rights of the public. So much for the other side's commitment to being strict constructionists when it comes to the Constitution.

Mr. Chairman, I urge my colleagues to support this amendment and reject this assault on the Constitution and the First Amendment.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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