Wall Street Journal Opinion Journal
‘In recent years, many Americans have had cause to wonder whether decisions made at EPA were guided by science and the law, or whether those principles had been trumped by politics,” declared Lisa Jackson in San Francisco last week. The Environmental Protection Agency chief can’t stop kicking the Bush Administration, but the irony is that the Obama EPA is far more “political” than the Bush team ever was.
How else to explain the coordinated release on Wednesday of the EPA’s new rules that make carbon a dangerous pollutant and John Kerry’s cap-and-trade bill? Ms. Jackson is issuing a political ultimatum to business, as well as to Midwestern and rural Democrats: Support the Kerry-Obama climate tax agenda—or we’ll punish your utilities and consumers without your vote.
The EPA has now formally made an “endangerment finding” on CO2, which will impose the command-and-control regulations of the Clean Air Act across the entire economy. Because this law was never written to apply to carbon, the costs will far exceed those of a straight carbon tax or even cap and trade—though judging by the bills Democrats are stitching together, perhaps not by much. In any case, the point of this reckless “endangerment” is to force industry and politicians wary of raising taxes to concede, lest companies have to endure even worse economic and bureaucratic destruction from the EPA.
Ms. Jackson made a show of saying her new rules would only apply to some 10,000 facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, as if that were a concession. These are the businesses—utilities, refineries, heavy manufacturers and so forth—that have the most to lose and are therefore most sensitive to political coercion.
The idea is to get Exelon and other utilities to lobby Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill that gives them compensating emissions allowances that they can sell to offset the cost of the new regulations. White House green czar Carol Browner was explicit on the coercion point last week, telling a forum hosted by the Atlantic Monthly that the EPA move would “obviously encourage the business community to raise their voices in Congress.” In Sicily and parts of New Jersey, they call that an offer you can’t refuse.
Yet one not-so-minor legal problem is that the Clean Air Act’s statutory language states unequivocally that the EPA must regulate any “major source” that emits more than 250 tons of a pollutant annually, not 25,000. The EPA’s Ms. Jackson made up the higher number out of whole cloth because the lower legal threshold—which was intended to cover traditional pollutants, not ubiquitous carbon—would sweep up farms, restaurants, hospitals, schools, churches and other businesses. Sources that would be required to install pricey “best available control technology” would increase to 41,000 per year, up from 300 today, while those subject to the EPA’s construction permitting would jump to 6.1 million from 14,000.
That’s not our calculation. It comes from the EPA itself, which also calls it “an unprecedented increase” that would harm “an extraordinarily large number of sources.” The agency goes on to predict years of delay and bureaucratic backlog that “would impede economic growth by precluding any type of source—whether it emits GHGs or not—from constructing or modifying for years after its business plan contemplates.” We pointed this out earlier this year, only to have Ms. Jackson and the anticarbon lobby deny it.
Usually it takes an act of Congress to change an act of Congress, but Team Obama isn’t about to let democratic—or even Democratic—consent interfere with its carbon extortion racket. To avoid the political firestorm of regulating the neighborhood coffee shop, the EPA is justifying its invented rule on the basis of what it calls the “absurd results” doctrine. That’s not a bad moniker for this whole exercise.
The EPA admits that it is “departing from the literal application of statutory provisions.” But it says the courts will accept its revision because literal application will produce results that are “so illogical or contrary to sensible policy as to be beyond anything that Congress could reasonably have intended.”
Well, well. Shouldn’t the same “absurd results” theory pertain to shoehorning carbon into rules that were written in the 1970s and whose primary drafter—Michigan Democrat John Dingell—says were never intended to apply? Just asking. Either way, this will be a feeble legal excuse when the greens sue to claim that the EPA’s limits are inadequate, in order to punish whatever carbon-heavy business they’re campaigning against that week.
Obviously President Obama is hellbent on punishing carbon use—no matter how costly or illogical. And of course, there’s no politics involved, none at all.