Commentary Magazine


EPA Power Grab Ought to Overshadow Copenhagen Talkfest

While the attention of the world is focused on the global-warming jamboree in Copenhagen, an announcement made in Washington yesterday may well overshadow that international talkfest in its significance. On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator Lisa P. Jackson issued a final ruling that greenhouse gases pose a danger to the environment and human health. This will, as the New York Times noted, pave “the way for regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, power plants, factories, refineries and other major sources.”

As if to put an exclamation point on the way that the governmental and media establishments have utterly rejected the significance of Climategate and other sources of skepticism, Jackson dismissed any criticisms of the environmentalist groupthink on the issue and said that her agency would not allow anything to stop it from going ahead with a plan that has the potential to create a vast expansion of government.

The impact of this ruling cannot be overestimated. Because carbon dioxide is everywhere and produced by just about any sort of economic activity, the door is opened for a new era of complex governmental regulations that will impose enormous costs across the board.

Jackson made little attempt to hide the real agenda here. Cap-and-trade legislation that would attempt to do the same thing is going nowhere in Congress. The prospects of going into an election year by imposing a gargantuan new bureaucracy on the country via a massive, though hidden, tax increase in the middle of an economic downturn is a formula for certain defeat for the Democrats. But why bother dealing with the messiness of democracy when you can impose a command-and-control economy run from Washington via an EPA ruling? As the Times editorial page helpfully points out today, Jackson’s fiat has the ability to completely bypass the Congress and possibly get the same result:

There is one obvious way to keep the E.P.A. from having to use this authority on a broad scale. And that is for Congress to pass a credible and comprehensive bill requiring economywide cuts in emissions. No one would be cheering louder than Ms. Jackson, who has neither the resources nor the ambition to regulate what would amount to 70 percent of the American economy. If Congress fails to act, she will have no choice.

I’m not so sure about the lack of ambition for central control of the economy on the part of the Obama administration, though the prospect of Jackson’s merry band of government bureaucrats being given that much power ought to send a chill down the spine of any sensible person. So should the prospect of having such a draconian measure shoved down the collective throats of our democracy by executive fiat. While the show in Copenhagen may be unlikely to produce any binding international agreements to advance the environmental alarmist position, this EPA power grab may prove to be an even more troubling measure that will cripple the U.S. economy without the voters or their representatives having a say in any of it.