Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Battle over carbon dioxide moves to EPA

Posted by sanityinjection on February 19, 2009

The next development in the controversy over carbon dioxide and its role in climate change is likely to come from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency is under a Supreme Court order to make a determination as to whether carbon dioxide qualifies as a dangerous pollutant under the Clean Air Act:

The Bush Administration ignored this order on plausible constitutional and practical grounds. The Supreme Court’s role is to determine whether a law is constitutional; it has no power to order an executive branch agency such as EPA to do anything. Further, the Bush Administration knew that a finding either way would agitate a lot of people on one side or the other of the climate change debate, and preferred to avoid this.

Under the new management of the Obama Administration, however, the EPA has signaled its intent to comply with the Court order in the next few months, which it certainly can choose to do. The Clean Air Act is one of the more complex pieces of federal legislation ever written, so there is considerable room for interpretation. However, given the leanings of the Administration, it is expected that the EPA will decide that carbon dioxide is in fact a dangerous pollutant  properly subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.  This would give the Administration regulatory power to enforce carbon emission reductions without the need for (or in addition to) action by Congress, which could certainly help them further their goals regarding climate change.

Nevertheless, one wonders whether basic common sense should be taken into account:

Even some who favor an aggressive approach to climate change said they were wary of the agency’s asserting exclusive authority over carbon emissions. They say that the Clean Air Act, now more than 40 years old, was not designed to regulate ubiquitous substances like carbon dioxide.

In fact, carbon dioxide is the fourth most common ingredient in the air that we breathe, after nitrogen, oxygen, and argon, though far less abundant than all three. To suggest that a natural component of the earth’s atmosphere constitutes a “pollutant that endangers public health and welfare”, seems like a ludicrous stretch of the intent of the law. And the consequences could be very significant:

Under the clean air law any source emitting more than 250 tons of a declared pollutant would be subject to regulation, potentially including schools, hospitals, shopping centers, even bakeries, which has prompted some critics to call it the “Dunkin’ Donuts rule.”

Of course, EPA claims that they could write the regulations so as not to be draconian.

What disturbs me is that there seems to be more concern about whether a ruling would be practical or useful in combatting global warming than in the more fundamental question of whether it would be scientifically correct or in conformance with the enabling legislation. If the rationale for labeling CO2 a dangerous pollutant relies on the theory of global warming, then I would argue that the science is insufficient, and should not be whitewashed out of a political desire to do an end-run around Congress.

I have long held that the ideas that the ends always justify the means, and that the law is a convenience to be set aside when it suits the purposes of those with noble motives, are inherently destructive to our democracy. The Left cited this view in its justifiable criticism of the Bush Administration in areas such as waterboarding and “signing statements”. To reverse course now and embrace these arguments simply because it now benefits the Left politically to do so would be the essence of hypocrisy.


7 Responses to “Battle over carbon dioxide moves to EPA”

  1. foundersfreedom said

    Hypocrisy has never been a problem for the Left. And sadly for too many on the right. The EPA has gone the way of most agencies – beyond their intended purpose of monitoring and regulation, to that of active advocacy for liberal causes. The Clinton EPA director was practically an environmental Stalinist. We can bet that this time around will be worse with this President and several years of indoctrination concerning the “climate change” hoax. We’ll see if they actually do rewrite Clean Air regulations without implementing draconian measures. Guess that will depend on their definition of draconian.

  2. tubby said

    Hoax is a strong word. Propaganda from certain sources, perhaps.

    SI, I’m glad you brought this issue to my attention. TNR suggests that since lobbyists on capital hill REALLY don’t want this to happen since it will pull the rug out from under them, they will push for Congressional cap-and-trade legislation to satisfy the Left. It should be an interesting development.

  3. sanityinjection said

    I don’t think cap-and-trade is likely to pass before the EPA acts. And it’s not clear how passage of cap-and-trade would relieve EPA of what it seems to believe is its repsonsibility to follow the orders of the Supreme Court, or change the scientific basis for its finding.

    If businesses end up having to comply with both cap-and-trade legislation *and* EPA regulation, then you might as well dump your stock portfolio into Lake Michigan right now.

  4. sanityinjection said

    The WSJ reports that EPA has made a “proposed finding” that carbon dioxide is a danger to public health:

    The EPA is basing its finding on its belief that elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 will cause “severe heat waves…with likely increases in mortality and morbidity, especially among the elderly, young and frail…floods, storms, droughts and fires.”

    Don’t hold your breath.

  5. foundersfreedom said

    I saw that this AM too and posted it. It’s happening before our eyes. Breathing is now harmful to the Earth.

  6. sanityinjection said

    William Galston has a great short piece in The New Republic explaining why a cap-and-trade bill won’t pass Congress this year and why that will create major domestic and foreign policy problems for President Obama:

  7. sanityinjection said

    It’s official – EPA has dropped the bomb:

    Now every time you exhale you are polluting the atmosphere and creating a danger to public health and welfare. Thank God the government is here to protect us.

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