Climate Bill Would Strip EPA Authority to Regulate

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) and environmental subcommittee chair Edward Markey (D-MA) have drafted a bill that would establish a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions, mandate increases in the renewable energy supply, and require better energy efficiency in cars and other consumer products. The ultimate goal of the bill is to cut emissions 83 percent by 2050.

flappersThe draft bill is a welcome development in climate change policy, but one provision should raise serious concern: Sec. 331 of the draft bill would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from developing greenhouse gas emissions regulations under the Clean Air Act.

Most people in favor of government policy to address climate change (including President Obama) agree that comprehensive legislation (like this bill) is preferable to EPA efforts to retrofit the Clean Air Act to stem greenhouse gas emissions (currently underway).

But here’s the problem: At the moment, comprehensive legislation still seems like a pipe dream. Here are some excerpts from today’s Washington Post coverage on the draft bill:

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called it 'a strong starting point.' "

"Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), a key swing vote on Markey's subcommittee, said […] 'We've got a long way to go.' "

" 'We don't have 60 votes,' said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the majority whip in charge of counting votes. [...] 'We still have a long way to go [on climate legislation], but we hope we can get to it.' " 

The key question becomes, What will the Obama administration do in the face of the inevitable Congressional doddering?

The administration shouldn’t use this draft bill as an excuse to shy away from using the Clean Air Act as a means to address climate change. The White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) is currently reviewing an EPA finding that declares greenhouse gases a threat to the public’s health and welfare. If the so-called endangerment finding is made official, it will oblige EPA to regulate emissions.

OIRA should approve the finding, and EPA should press ahead.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that EPA must consider whether greenhouse gases are a public danger – a judgment the Bush administration successfully stalled. Until and unless the Waxman-Markey bill is signed into law, that ruling is still the law of the land.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Senate, available at

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