Monday, May 17, 2010

That Pesky EPA

The conventional wisdom is that the Environmental Protection Agency's moves towards regulating carbon dioxide are the stick intended to browbeat special interests and a few Republicans into supporting a climate bill in the Senate. Most people would probably prefer a comprehensive bill from congress to relying on EPA's interpretation of the Clean Air Act. The Economist's M.S. takes the opposite view:

For a moment I considered the problem that regulation that emerges from a line agency doesn't have the kind of democratic legitimacy that a bill passed by the Senate has. Then I looked at the words "Senate" and "democratic legitimacy" next to each other and decided that's really not much of an objection. A more serious problem is that if the EPA went ahead and cracked down on greenhouse-gas emissions, the Senate might freak out and try to strip them of their authority. But guess what? It'd only take 41 senators to filibuster a move like that. Basically, I'm now at a point where I would prefer that the EPA go wild and slather a thick layer of sticky regulation all over the major carbon-emitting sectors, then let the lobbyists get down and wrestle in it.

To clarify, the Senate has already tried to strip them of their authority. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Exxon AK) has been quite persistent in tacking amendments onto bills and trying every parliamentary tactic under the sun to strip the EPA of its authority.  I actually phone banked against a Lisa Murkoski amendment on this issue last fall. So far she has failed, but what she lacks in scruples, she makes up for in persistance.

There's probably something to be said for the merits of a comprehensive bill rather than whatever the EPA can squeeze out of their authority. A formal carbon tax or cap-and-trade system, coupled with subsidies for clean energy research and construction and a coherent transit policy would be excellent. But Kerry-Lieberman isn't that good before the amendments start. It's hard to make a choice here until we know exactly what the EPA is capable of. Regardless, its heartening to know that there is a plan B if the Senate doesn't pull through.

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