GOP candidates push for cuts to environmental protection


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Most of the Republican-caucus candidates say they'd pursue deep funding cuts to environmental protection — or do away with it altogether.

But to many environmental advocates, that mindset endangers air and water quality, particularly for Iowa farmers.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he wants to replace the EPA with an Environmental Solutions Agency. Gingrich says the new agency would focus on job creation and the cost of energy when negotiating with the local government to implement environmental regulations.

"Contrary to popular belief, America has more energy than any nation on Earth," Gingrich campaign literature claims. "All that's keeping us from becoming energy independent is a lack of political will to do so."

Another caucus contender, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, has pledged to fight to remove restrictions on drilling for oil and the use of coal and nuclear power. He also said he would eliminate the EPA and offer tax credits for alternative fuel purchase and production.

"As long as we allow federal regulations and bureaucratic red tape to get in the way of energy exploration, our country will never solve its energy crisis," Paul writes on his website.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn, would encourage extraction of more natural gas.

Bachmann, who has referred to the EPA as the "job-killing agency," said she will work to remove regulations on shale and terminate the agency's limitations on companies' carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions.

"That's the kind of 'game-changing' advance that could reduce costs, create jobs, and increase our security — if only government would get out of the way," she said.

But local environmental advocate Mike Carberry said the EPA regulations that Republicans have pledged to eliminate are critical.

"It's been proven over and over again that if we don't regulate industries, they can't be trusted to do their own things," said Carberry, the director of Green State Solutions. "It just means they're going to make more money for shareholders."

However, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., a member of the House subcommittee on energy and power, agrees with candidates on stopping EPA's regulatory power.

"Let's freeze all new regulations. We can live with the current ones," said Shimkus' press secretary, Steve Tomaszewski. "The EPA is creating uncertainty with the business sector, which prevents it from hiring new people and expanding business."

For farmers in Iowa, however, EPA protection is necessary, said Bruce Babcock, an Iowa State University professor of economics and the director of the Biobased Industry Center.

Babcock said the EPA regulates water quality and pesticides, and it has established measures to keep manure from running into waterways.

Babcock said he's seen no evidence of regulations hampering farmers' business.

Carberry said terminating the EPA would create a "ripple effect" in Iowa, and it would reduce grant money for Johnson County to invest in renewable energy. Lower renewable energy sales could then bring layoffs and business closures, he said.

"[EPA regulations] cost you more to do business because you have to pay money not to pollute, but what is that worth? Kids having asthma?" Carberry said.

However, Jake Rubin, the director of public relations for the American Gas Association, said natural gas is clean fuel. It's also abundant and accessible today, he said.

Despite these purported benefits, Harry Graves, the director of the Johnson County Conservation Board, strongly opposes drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I don't think people understand the long-term effects of the BP spill," he said.

Rachel Caufield, a Drake University associate professor of politics, said the energy debate is far from over. She said the topic will be "likely to come up" at the national debate in Des Moines on Dec. 10.

"The energy issue is always at the top of the list in Iowa," Caufield said. "Energy policies directly affect a huge number of Iowans."

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