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Rep. Gardner criticizes EPA and the Clean Air Act but poll shows CD4 voters want protections

U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., helped lead last week’s GOP onslaught against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, despite polling in his congressional district showing two-thirds of his constituents feel “Congress should let the EPA do its job.”

Gardner, a co-sponsor of legislation meant to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit the effects of climate change, questioned EPA administrator Lisa Jackson last week during a hearing before the House Energy and Power Subcommittee.

“The reason cap and trade didn’t pass is because it would have been detrimental to our economy and job creation, so for the administration to now try and usurp Congress by using the EPA is just unacceptable,” Gardner said in a release.

The EPA late last year announced it will propose new standards for new and refurbished power plants by July, with final rules coming in May of 2012. New standards for new oil refineries will come out in December, with the final rules expected by November of 2012.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 ruled that greenhouse gases are pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act, and in 2009 the EPA release two findings allowing the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. Climate change legislation, including cap and trade, passed the House in 2009 but came up short in the Senate in 2010.

Efforts to undercut the EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act will also likely die in the Senate. Democratic Colorado Sen. Mark Udall has started a petition drive to thwart the anti-EPA push.

“Anti-environment legislators introduced bills to restrict the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon — legislation that flies in the face of directives from the U.S. Supreme Court and threatens our progress toward a clean energy future,” Udall said. “I’ll be delivering a petition to the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, at the end of the month, and we need it to be a strong statement of opposition to these bills.”

A poll commissioned by the National Resources Defenses Council found that 61 percent of those surveyed in Gardner’s largely rural 4th Congressional District in northern Colorado oppose the “Energy Tax Prevention Act” proposal from Michigan Republican Fred Upton “that would block the EPA from limiting carbon dioxide pollution.” Another 55 percent favor “the EPA setting new standards with stricter limits on air pollution,” according to the poll.

The NRDC also found Gardner, a freshman, has taken $29,500 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies, utilities, coal and mining interests, and that there are more than 80,000 people in his district suffering from asthma, which health care officials say is exacerbated by air pollution.

Jackson told the subcommittee that the Clean Air Act has prevented more than 205,000 deaths since 1990. But Gardner ripped her for claiming “the economy in rural America is strong enough to withstand burdensome regulations.”

“Families in rural areas are facing challenges like everyone else, and I would know because I grew up in a town of only 3,200 people.” Gardner said. “When something becomes more expensive, like the utility bill, it hurts those families most.”

He invited Jackson to visit his district and “familiarize herself with the realities of rural America.” Gardner is a former state legislator with a long history of advocating for the oil and gas industry. Last year, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he was the beneficiary of a fundraiser hosted by a British Petroleum lobbyist.

And in Colorado in 2008 he signed the Energy Action Plan put out by a pro-energy nonprofit called the Western Skies Coalition. The political advocacy group used petroleum industry dollars in an attempt to elect Republican state lawmakers and retake the state Senate.

Gardner last November beat out incumbent Democrat Betsy Markey, who voted for the climate change bill and was singled out by President Barack Obama as a blue dog Democrat who took a courageous vote in a largely conservative district.

Colorado renewable energy advocates point to the economic upside – in addition to the health benefits – of policies that restrict carbon emissions and reward cleaner forms of energy. Colorado has added 17,000 jobs in the clean-energy sector over the last several years, and a new study by the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute, entitled, “New Jobs – Cleaner Air,” concluded that the new EPA air pollution rules would create up to 1.46 million American jobs (pdf).

“This report echoes what Coloradans already know,” said Gary Wockner of Fort Collins-based Clean Water Action, “Clean air creates jobs and protects the economy and public health; dirty air costs jobs and threatens the economy and public health. Supporting the EPA and the Clean Air Act is good for people, good for our environment, and good for our economy.”

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