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US Tests Options to Control CO2

Page history last edited by Malcolm 11 years, 5 months ago

Jolting Congress into action on greenhouse gases


Friday, April 17, 2009

AS SOON as next week, the Environmental Protection Agency could

follow through on an order from the Supreme Court to either declare

carbon dioxide a pollutant or to say why it isn't. That decision

could usefully signal to the world that the United States is serious

about regulating greenhouse gas emissions. But it should also send a

shiver down Congress's collective spine. Because the regulation of

carbon will have a profound effect on the American economy, this

vital task should be the responsibility of Congress, not of unelected

officials at the EPA.

The EPA does have the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate

air pollutants that have "effects on [public] welfare," "on . . .

weather, . . . and climate, . . . as well as effects on . . .

personal comfort and well-being." Emitted greenhouse gases,

particularly carbon dioxide, will have such effects. The Supreme

Court's 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA affirmed this when the

majority concluded that the EPA had the authority to control

emissions from motor vehicle tailpipes and ordered the agency to

issue an endangerment finding. Then-EPA Administrator Stephen L.

Johnson was close to doing so on the basis of public welfare, but he

opted for another public comment period after intense pressure from

the Bush administration.

The probable and impending endangerment finding by current EPA

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson would fulfill the court's mandate and

then require Ms. Jackson to devise regulations for the transportation

sector. But having declared greenhouse gases a pollutant, the agency

would have to set about the long process of regulating such gases

from all other sources as well. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce

expresses concern about the impact of such regulation on the

construction industry, because residential and commercial buildings

are larger sources of global-warming pollution than are motor

vehicles. Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), then-chairman of the House

Energy and Commerce Committee, predicted last year that seeking to

control climate change with such piecemeal regulation would lead to a

"glorious mess."

The best way to stop this from happening is for Congress to adopt a

more rational scheme, by putting a price on carbon with a tax

(ideally) or a cap-and-trade market. Next week, Rep. Henry A. Waxman

(D-Calif.), the current chairman of the Energy and Commerce

Committee, will hold hearings on the discussion draft of

comprehensive energy legislation that he and Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-

Mass.), chairman of the energy and environment subcommittee, released

before the Easter recess. While the proposal details many ambitious

programs for renewable energy and efficiency, it is noticeably mute

on the contours of a cap-and-trade system. Specifically, it doesn't

say whether the pollution allowances would be auctioned or a portion

given away to industry to ease the transition to a carbon-constrained

economy. This is an important question, one whose answer will have a

profound impact on the way Americans live -- one of many basic issues

that should be settled by their representatives in Congress.

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