Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator Stephen Johnson announced that the agency will respond to the Supreme Court’s Massachusetts v. EPA decision by issuing an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on the question of regulating carbon dioxide emissions from motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act. This prudent step allows for valuable information gathering without committing the agency to costly and ill-advised steps. This is all the more true given the very real fears that a wrong move could lead to an endless regulatory morass – the last thing the economy needs right now.

Not surprisingly, the environmental groups and states that brought the lawsuit in the first place have sued again, this time to try to force the agency to move more quickly on the matter. In addition, a Congressional committee has subpoenaed the agency for documents related to the agency’s earlier internal decision to initiate regulation that was later reversed.

Neither gambit will amount to anything. What the EPA has done – opening up the docket to comments on the potentially serious economic implications of such regulations before undertaking them – makes for both sound policy and sound law. For one thing, the very Supreme Court decision at issue set no deadline for the agency to act, so the effort to impose a deadline now is a legal stretch. And the fact that the agency may have changed course, or that the administrator may have disagreed with a proposal put before him by his staff, is hardly unusual. This is especially so given the passage last December of the Energy Independence and Security Act, which made substantial legislative changes to motor vehicles and fuels that call into question the need for additional measures.