EPA raises the stakes on emissions

EPA RAISES THE STAKES ON EMISSIONS…. As expected, the Environmental Protection Agency is poised to formally declare that greenhouse gases are a dangerous public-health hazard and must be regulated by the government. The “endangerment finding” is the result of a study ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 on the effects of greenhouse gas pollution on human health and welfare.

Whether Congress approves a cap-and-trade measure or not, the conclusion raises the specter of combating global warming through the regulatory process of the Clean Air Act. As you may have heard, business groups, to put it mildly, aren’t fond of that idea.

An EPA endangerment finding “could result in a top-down command-and-control regime that will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in a statement. “The devil will be in the details, and we look forward to working with the government to ensure we don’t stifle our economic recovery,” he said, noting that the group supports federal legislation.

EPA action won’t do much to combat climate change, and “is certain to come at a huge cost to the economy,” said the National Association of Manufacturers, a trade group that stands as a proxy for U.S. industry.

As far as I can tell, the Clean Air Act probably isn’t ideal in regulating carbon emissions, but here’s the thing: they’re going to have to be regulated somehow. Businesses are worried about the EPA tackling the task? Fine, no problem. There’s a preferable, more efficient, approach available anyway — it’s called cap and trade; it’s enjoyed bipartisan support; and it’s based on a model that’s proven effective in the recent past.

Of course, businesses aren’t impressed with this option, either. As Matt Yglesias noted, groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers “just want to somehow sweep the whole problem under the rug and leave it up to their grandkids to suffer the consequences. There are a wide range of policy approaches that are consistent with the goal of averting catastrophic climate change, but this do nothing stance is not acceptable.”

Today’s EPA declaration should help crystallize the near-future for polluters: back cap and trade or the EPA won’t have much of a choice. It’s your call.