Tuesday, November 10, 2009

EPA Finds That Greenhouse Gases Threaten Health

Yesterday the EPA took another step towards regulating greenhouse gases by sending its final endangerment finding to the White House.

Sources said the document concludes the emissions pose a threat to the public's health and welfare. The agency did not release its finding, which was issued as a draft in April. The Office of Management and Budget now has 90 days to sign off on it.

Environmentalists embraced the move as a sign that the Obama administration is moving ahead on global warming policy less than a month before U.N.-sponsored climate talks begin in Copenhagen....

Keith McCoy, vice president for energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said his members are worried that the Obama administration would put in place rules on greenhouse gases before Congress had a chance to pass climate legislation. While the House has passed a climate bill, the Senate is unlikely to take up its version of the measure before next year.
If the EPA has concluded that greenhouse gas emissions present a threat to human health, then it would be compelled under the Clean Air Act to issue regulations to control those emissions. The ability of the EPA to provide an alternate path towards climate change regulations puts some pressure on the Senate to pass a bill. Legislation gives representatives from energy-producing regions more influence in how those regulations will affect their states. Regulations issued under the Clean Air Act could be much more strict than cap-and-trade legislation.

For that reason, it does seem like an inviting alternative to whatever legislation, if any, that the Senate produces. But those regulations could be blocked by riders on appropriations bills, as has happened in the past.
Could the same thing happen to EPA regs that happened to CAFE regs under Clinton? Well, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has already tried once, back in September. Her amendment was poorly written and she ultimately backed down without forcing a vote on it. But as the aide told me, it would be possible for a more adept legislator to write a more carefully tailored amendment that would block only the stationary-source regulations and leave the (more popular) vehicle regulations untouched. Obviously Republicans don’t control Congress now, and unless the most catastrophic predictions play out, won’t in 2010 either. But hostility to EPA regulations on power plants cuts across party lines. And remember, what’s needed here isn’t 60 votes against the EPA regs per se—just 60 senators who think passing an appropriations bill is more important than standing up for the EPA. The thing about appropriations bills is that they really need to pass or parts of the federal government go unfunded. There’s enormous pressure; that’s why members of Congress are fond of attaching riders to them....

If there’s a sufficiently large bloc of senators motivated to block the EPA, they’ll probably find some way to block it. But the point here is not so much to try to predict what might happen. It’s just to say that EPA regulations of CO2 are not “inevitable.” Nothing in politics is inevitable; nothing’s a sure thing; everything’s a risk; everything’s a fight. Those who would abandon legislation in Congress in favor of EPA regs run at least some risk of consigning the U.S. to years without any restrictions on CO2 emissions.
So even with an endangerment finding, much remains uncertain about the future course of greenhouse gas regulations.