Holding Back the EPA

By Beacon Staff

Are you following the latest developments on the subject of “climate change” now emerging from Washington? It’s an important topic for sure, so let’s check the status of this debate – and where it stands on the scale of reasonableness.

First, let’s recall that carbon dioxide (CO2 ) and other such greenhouse gas emissions are targeted as the “bad actors” responsible for global warming and climate change. As such, any proposal or initiative designed to combat climate change must of course focus on the regulation of these elements. But now to the bigger question … who is going to lead the charge in mapping out a strategy and process for this regulation? Will it be your elected representatives in Congress – or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)?

This question is looming large in Washington, as many believe the EPA has been moving far too aggressively in recent months to bypass Congress and self-anoint itself as leader and regulator over this important issue. There’s a lot at stake in this outcome and, for this reason, the pressure is mounting and the debate is hitting a fever pitch.

This type of posturing on the part of EPA can be traced back to the recent “endangerment finding,” a bit of legal maneuvering that brings forth huge implications. On December 7, 2009, EPA formally declared that U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles contribute to global air pollution, which in turn endangers U.S. public health or welfare. This “endangerment finding,” as it is called, is made under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act, and is a legal prerequisite for EPA to regulate motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.

Granted, the stated purpose of this finding is to regulate cars. But the problem with endangerment for greenhouse gases is that it is not easily limited to a single sector. The same or similar language contained in the “endangerment finding” is also found in countless other sections of the Act, including those that require National Ambient Air Quality Standards, New Source Performance Standards, and several different types of permits.

So why is this important? Why should we care? Because it would take little more than a lawsuit to force EPA to regulate under many of those other provisions now that it has made a positive endangerment finding – a lawsuit some environmental groups have already pledged to bring. The point is simple: if CO2 emissions from cars endanger public health and welfare, then why not emissions from other sources? The endangerment finding could therefore lead, by operation of law, to a wide range of command-and-control regulations.

The use of the Clean Air Act in this manner represents a serious escalation in the tactics being used to pass a bill that addresses climate change. Prompted by the Obama administration, the EPA is no longer content to use the Clean Air Act regulation as a “stick” to force Congress to pass a bill. Instead, it now wants to use the Clean Air Act to regulate regardless of whether Congress addresses the issue.

By venturing down this pathway, we are opening the door to using the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 emissions from all sources. This is a slippery slope, one that will result in increased regulation, increased costs and a plethora of potential lawsuits. EPA itself admits that using the Act to regulate would lead to “absurd results,” such as the imposition of costly, burdensome preconstruction and operating permit programs to most mid-size and large buildings in the U.S.

But even so, the message is clear: EPA is moving forward. Right now. And you’re not going to like it. Luckily, there is something you can do about it.

Thanks to our government’s system of checks and balances, Congress can formally shut down unreasonable agency regulations under a law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) have introduced a bipartisan “resolution of disapproval” that would stop EPA from moving forward with these economy-crippling regulations. Debate on this resolution is scheduled for this week. Let your senator know we’re paying attention to this important issue.

Major decisions of this nature, those that impact the entire economy, ought to be made by the Congress, not the EPA. A “Yes” vote by our senators on Sen. Murkowski’s Congressional Review Act resolution will return authority over our nation’s climate policy where it rightfully belongs: to the Congress.

Don Sterhan is president & CEO of Mountain Plains Equity Group in Billings, a past chairman of the Montana Chamber of Commerce and serves as a board member on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce representing the state of Montana.