Tackling carbon emissions

TACKLING CARBON EMISSIONS…. Nearly two years ago, the Supreme Court surprised the Bush administration with a ruling that ordered the EPA to determine whether public health and welfare are being harmed by greenhouse gas pollution. In the wake of the decision, the Bush administration “walked a tortured policy path” to “defer compliance with the Supreme Court’s demand.”

Where the Bush gang fell down, the Obama administration is stepping up.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.

The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States’ negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen. […]

Lisa P. Jackson, the new E.P.A. administrator, said in an interview that she had asked her staff to review the latest scientific evidence and prepare the documentation for a so-called endangerment finding. Ms. Jackson said she had not decided to issue such a finding but she pointedly noted that the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. E.P.A., is April 2, and there is the wide expectation that she will act by then.

The result of Jackson’s reporting will largely be the beginning of the process, not the end. As the NYT noted, if the EPA finds that “carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant to be regulated under the Clean Air Act, it would set off one of the most extensive regulatory rule makings in history.” For that matter, it would also offer Congress a swift kick in the backside.

David Roberts has a very good piece on this, and explains the possibility of a sea-change with the new regulations: “This element of Obama’s impending energy policy hasn’t gotten nearly the attention it deserves. If he does it right, it could be the secret weapon that kills new coal plants for good — with far greater certainty than a middling cap-and-trade program…. [H]ow the Obama EPA chooses to play this card will have huge, huge effects, not only on its efforts to reduce emissions generally but on its efforts to build support for a carbon pricing system specifically. This is one to keep a very close eye on.”

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