Reckless "Endangerment": The Obama EPA plays "Dirty Harry" on cap and trade ... In Case You Missed It
April 24, 2009
Contact: Matt Dempsey (202) 224-9797
In Case You Missed It…
The Wall Street Journal
Reckless 'Endangerment': The Obama EPA plays 'Dirty Harry' on cap and trade
President Obama's global warming agenda has been losing support in Congress, but why let an irritant like democratic consent interfere with saving the world? So last Friday the Environmental Protection Agency decided to put a gun to the head of Congress and play cap-and-trade roulette with the U.S. economy.
The pistol comes in the form of a ruling that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant that threatens the public and therefore must be regulated under the 1970 Clean Air Act. This so-called "endangerment finding" sets the clock ticking on a vast array of taxes and regulation that EPA will have the power to impose across the economy, and all with little or no political debate.
This is a momentous decision that has the potential to affect the daily life of every American, yet most of the media barely noticed, and those that did largely applauded. When America's Founders revolted against "taxation without representation," this is precisely the kind of kingly diktat they had in mind.
Michigan Democrat John Dingell helped to write the Clean Air Act, as well as its 1990 revision, and he says neither was meant to apply to carbon. But in 2007 five members of the Supreme Court followed the environmental polls and ordered the EPA to determine if CO2 qualified as a "pollutant." The Bush Administration prudently slow-walked the decision. As Peter Glaser, an environmental lawyer at Troutman Sanders, told Congress in 2008, "The country will experience years, if not decades, of regulatory agony, as EPA will be required to undertake numerous, controversial, time-consuming, expensive and difficult regulatory proceedings, all of which ultimately will be litigated."
The Obama EPA has now opened this Pandora's box. The centerpiece of the Clean Air Act is something called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS, under which the EPA decides the appropriate atmospheric concentration of a given air pollutant. Under this law the states must adopt measures to meet a NAAQS goal, and the costs cannot be considered. For global warming, this is going to be a hugely expensive futility parade.
Greenhouse gases mix in the atmosphere, and it doesn't matter where they come from. A ton of emissions from Ohio has the same effect on global CO2 as a ton emitted in China; and even if Ohio figured out a way to reduce its emissions to zero, it would still have no control over the carbon content in its ambient air. But under the law, EPA would be required to severely punish Ohio -- and every state -- for not complying with NAAQS.
Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA also must regulate all "major" sources of emissions that emit more than 250 tons of an air pollutant in a year. That includes "any building, structure, facility or installation." This might be a reasonable threshold for conventional pollutants such as SOX or NOX, but it's extremely low for carbon. Hundreds of thousands of currently unregulated sources will suddenly be subject to the EPA's preconstruction permitting and review, including schools, hospitals, malls, restaurants, farms and colleges. According to EPA, the average permit today takes 866 hours for a source to prepare, and 301 hours for EPA to process. So this regulatory burden will increase by several orders of magnitude.
The EPA took the highly unusual step of not accompanying its endangerment finding with actual proposed regulations. For now, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claims her agency will only target cars and trucks. That is bad enough. It probably means, for example, that California's mileage fleet burdens will seep out to every other state. So even as taxpayers are now paying tens of billions of dollars to prop up GM and Chrysler, Ms. Jackson will be able to tell the entire auto industry it must make even more small cars that consumers don't want to buy.
Still, why confine the rule only to cars and trucks? By the EPA's own logic, it shouldn't matter where carbon emissions come from. Carbon from a car's tailpipe is the same as carbon from a coal-fired power plant. And transportation is responsible for only 28% of U.S. emissions, versus 34% for electricity generation. Ms. Jackson is clearly trying to limit the immediate economic impact of her ruling, so as not to ignite too great a business or consumer backlash.
But her half-measure is also too clever by half. By finding carbon a public danger, she is inviting lawsuits from environmental lobbies demanding that EPA regulate all carbon sources. Massachusetts and two other states have already sued in federal court to force the EPA to create a NAAQS for CO2.
Which brings us back to the Obama Administration's political roulette. Democrats know that their cap-and-tax agenda is losing ground, notably among Midwestern Senators. The EPA "endangerment" is intended to threaten businesses and state and local governments until they surrender and support the Obama agenda. The car industry is merely the first target, meant to be the object lesson.
Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey put it this way at MIT recently: "Do you want the EPA to make the decision or would you like your Congressman or Senator to be in the room and drafting legislation? . . . Industries across the country will just have to gauge for themselves how lucky they feel if they kill legislation in terms of how the EPA process will include them."
This "Dirty Harry" theory of governance -- Do you feel lucky? -- is as cynical as it is destructive. And contra Mr. Markey, if cap and tax is killed this year, it will be done in by Democrats, many of whom are starting to realize the economic harm it would inflict. In March, the Senate voted 89 to 8 on a resolution vowing to pass a climate bill only if "such legislation does not increase electricity or gasoline prices."
That's called democracy, but for the Obama Administration such debate is an inconvenient truth. If they can't get Congress to pass their agenda, they'll use EPA and the courts to impose it. How lucky do you feel?
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