Environmental Protection Agency

Whatever prospects lie ahead for cap and trade legislation moving through the Senate might not matter if the Environmental Protection Agency continues forward on its path to regulate carbon dioxide. The EPA’s endangerment finding, which took place earlier this year, gives the agency the authority to use Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs). New restrictions on automobiles were the first step in what could eventually be a long, economically painful set of regulations imposed by unelected government bureaucrats – unless Congress steps up to the plate and stops them.

Lisa Murkowski’s (R–AK) resolution of disapproval would do just that. As Heritage Senior Policy Analyst Ben Lieberman explains, “In order to provide a means of stopping unwarranted or ill-advised regulations, Congress and President Clinton enacted the Congressional Review Act in 1996. The statute allows Congress to pass, by simple majority and with limited debate time, a resolution of disapproval against any newly promulgated federal regulation it opposes, thus revoking the regulation. It is hard to imagine a more appropriate application of the Congressional Review Act than a disapproval against the EPA’s attempt to regulate energy use in the name of addressing global warming.”

Why? Because the Clean Air Act was never intended to regulate carbon dioxide. As the Clean Air Act is currently written, the endangerment finding would require that the EPA regulate sources or establishments that emit 100 or 250 tons or more of a pollutant per year. This was seen as the best way to combat smog, soot, and other air pollutants – not CO2. This means that Schools, farms, restaurants, hospitals, apartment complexes, churches, and anything with a motor—from motor vehicles to lawnmowers, jet skis, and leaf blowers—could be subject to cost-increasing restrictions.

The regulations would have the same impact on the economy and employment as would a major new energy tax as passed through cap and trade, but they would be worse, since they would entail more burdensome compliance, administrative, and legal costs. The American Farm Bureau Federation and 48 other agricultural groups sent a letter to the Senate warning that “full implementation would cost farmers more than 866-million dollars just for obtaining permits for farms and livestock operations.”

This is not an attack on just big business or big agriculture. The regulations could apply to “dairy facilities with over 25 cows, beef cattle operations of over 50 cattle, swine operations with over 200 hogs, and farms with over 500 acres of corn.” Further, over 1.3 million commercial entities could be regulated for the first time and over 3.9 million single family homes could be subject to regulation – and these numbers are according to the EPA.

EPA is trying to minimize the economic pain, just temporarily, for smaller entities by raising the pollution thresholds in the Clean Air Act. Known as the tailoring rule, the change not only stands on shaky constitutional ground, it also stands on shaky legal ground – floods of lawsuits are likely to come from environmental groups that believe the EPA should regulate anything and everything.

A Short-term Delay in Pain for Smaller Entities, Not for Everyone Else
The tailoring rule would only be in place until 2016 and then the millions of smaller entities become fair game again. The American energy consumer will have no such luck. Small businesses, farms, churches, schools and homes will immediately be hit with higher energy prices passed on by the larger energy industries that will be regulated. And as former senator and governor of Virginia George Allen and the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Marlo Lewis explain, even with the tailoring rule in place the EPA can inflict massive amounts of economic pain:

The tailoring rule also provides no protection from the endangerment finding’s most absurd result–rulemakings to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), set below current atmospheric concentrations, for greenhouse gases. Environmental litigation groups are only acting on the obvious implication of the EPA’s assertion that the root cause of endangerment is the “elevated concentration” of greenhouse gases when they demand that the EPA initiate such rulemakings.

The economic consequences would be devastating. Even a global depression lasting several decades would not be enough to lower CO2 concentrations from today’s level–roughly 390 parts per million–to 350 ppm, the new politically correct “stabilization” target advocated by former Vice President Al Gore, the Center for Biological Diversity and numerous other environmental groups. Yet under the Clean Air Act, states are obligated to attain NAAQS within five years or, at most, 10 years. The endangerment finding thus sets the stage for environmental activists to transform the Act into a deindustrialization mandate via litigation. The Murkowski resolution would nip all this mischief in the bud.”

To add salt to the wound, these regulations are all based on a faulty scientific consensus that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are a significant threat to human health and the environment. It’s time for the Senate to act and prevent the EPA from slipping global warming regulations through the backdoor, especially when the public doesn’t want to see them brought in through the front.