Economics, Energy and the Environment

EPA’s Dirty Harry Moment

On Wednesday, September 30, the Environmental Protection Agency took the first big step toward regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced proposed rules that would require large emitters (those emitting more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases annually) to obtain permits from the EPA covering those emissions, and demonstrating that they are using “best available control technology” in new construction and when facilities are significantly modified. EPA estimates that 14,000 facilities in the United States will have to comply with the new requirements.

The administrator claimed that the EPA would not regulate small emitters, despite the fact that the Clean Air Act specifically requires the EPA to regulate any source that emits more than 250 tons of a criteria air pollutant. This is highly unlikely to stand up in court, when environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity sue, as they’ve pledged to do. For that matter, the large emitters would be wise to sue for this also, both to ensure that they’re not the only ones disadvantaged by the EPA’s actions, and to make manifest the insanity involved with EPA regulating greenhouse gases.

Is it a coincidence that EPA made this announcement the same day Senators Kerry and Boxer floated the Senate’s version of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill? Highly unlikely. What we’re seeing unfold here is yet another scene in the stage play that the EPA’s been putting on all year, as they’ve been threatening to cause economic ruin through the Clean Air Act if Congress doesn’t push through a cap-and-trade bill. Up until now, that’s been a more subtle threat, but as Congress gets closer to the finish line on climate legislation, and is facing some serious opposition both inside and outside of its own party, and when polls are showing declining public concern over climate change, the subtlety is gone.

That’s why the EPA is now blatantly threatening heavy industry and the power sector to back down in opposition to climate change cap-and-trade legislation. The EPA loaded this gun when they rushed through an “endangerment finding” on the greenhouse gases earlier in the year, and now they are pointing that gun at the U.S. economy in a routine almost certainly choreographed by the Obama administration. You can just see Jackson standing there with a .44 magnum in her hand, and a steely glint in her eye, telling industry “You’ve got to ask yourself one question, ‘do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

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