The Dernogalizer

April 6, 2010

Will Lisa Jackson actually use the Clean Air Act to Regulate Carbon?

Filed under: Energy/Climate,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 12:16 am
Tags: , ,

There was a solid Newsweek article a few days ago about whether Lisa Jackson and the Obama Administration has it in them to move forward and regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act if Congress doesn’t seriously act.  The big question is whether the Obama Administration has the guts to go for it.  I want to excerpt a few pieces from it.

“But if that conciliatory approach doesn’t work, Obama can count on Jackson as his climate enforcer. Unless Congress acts by next January, Jackson says, the EPA will use its authority under America’s Clean Air Act to phase in new restrictions on carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change. The U.S. emits nearly a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide; the EPA has identified it and five other greenhouse gases as a threat to public health. “The difference between this administration and the last is that we don’t believe we have an option to do nothing,” Jackson told NEWSWEEK.”

“But that doesn’t mean her job will be easy. Three months after announcing her intent, Jackson, a chemical engineer who spent years working within the EPA bureaucracy, is starting to see just how difficult it may be. For starters, the Nixon-era Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate a pollutant as pervasive as carbon. Both environmentalists and industry heads also acknowledge that Congress would be able to address the problem better. “The only thing everyone agrees on is that a regulatory approach would be more extensive and less effective than legislation,” says Paul Bledsoe, spokesman for the National Commission on Energy Policy, a Washington think tank. But until Congress takes up the question, Obama holds the only key to sweeping carbon cuts”

“Jackson’s do-it-or-else version will contain none of that. Yet despite protests by members of Congress that Jackson is infringing on their turf, leaders on Capitol Hill—mistrustful after the passage of health care and worried about a double-dip recession—have shown little interest in taking up the issue. Republicans, largely skeptical of climate change, are opposed to steep emissions cuts, and even many Democrats who are sympathetic to the cause in principle don’t want to make trouble with big employers (and donors) back in their home districts. (Some lawmakers have introduced protest bills that threaten to rewrite the Clean Air Act to curtail the EPA’s power, and even to dry up funding for the agency. They aren’t expected to go anywhere, although Jackson says she’s prepared to fight such measures.)”

“The big question in Washington isn’t whether the EPA has the authority to singlehandedly force polluters to radically cut their carbon emissions; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that it does. It’s whether the White House is actually serious about carrying out Jackson’s plan—or if it is just noisily bluffing to get Congress to take some action, even if it falls short of Jackson’s ambitious cuts.”

“The one to watch for that answer isn’t Jackson, but Obama. With a health-care victory under his belt, the president has new clout, both with Congress and with a growing number of voters. But if the January deadline approaches and Congress still hasn’t taken up a plan to reduce carbon, Obama will have to decide if he has the political stomach to make good on Jackson’s ultimatum—a move unpopular enough that it could land him back in the trenches. It wouldn’t be a quiet fight. The other side would attack him as anti-business and anti-jobs, and it wouldn’t all be Republicans.”

“”The president understands that EPA must follow the science and its legal obligations,” says a White House official who spoke under the usual rules of anonymity. “But he has made abundantly clear that his strong preference is for Congress to pass energy and climate legislation.” Hardball Washington translation: let’s make a deal.”


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