Rock and a hard place

May 21, 2010

It’s good to see someone attempt to trim the Environmental Protection Agency’s, (EPA) regulatory wings regarding their haphazard determination that carbon dioxide (CO2) is an air pollutant. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, and Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, have proposed a Resolution of Disapproval which states "That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the EPA relating to the endangerment finding and the cause or contribute findings for greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act and such rule shall have no force or effect."

If the resolution is adopted, EPA would have to back off their regulation efforts to manage carbon dioxide. The EPA’s intentions are to manage climate change through an expanded definition of the Clean Air Act. However, I am relatively certain that CO2 was never considered a pollutant in 1970.

This entire greenhouse gas/global warming issue has been hotly debated and it appears that after the "Climategate" debacle, there has been less enthusiasm over the issue. It seems that most Americans see it as a joke. Past president of the American Association of State Climatologists Patrick Michaels said there is an overestimation of the environment’s sensitivity to CO2, and the idea that most of global warming is due to greenhouse gas caused by man just isn’t right.

But on the other hand Catherine Milbourn from EPA disagrees with Michaels and said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gas emissions constitute air pollution. As a result, EPA set out to determine whether that pollution threatens the health and welfare of Americans. Their finding is apparently based on a comprehensive review of available science from an array of peer-reviewed sources across the globe. I suppose this comment was made before Climategate.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and a host of other groups have been working to clip the EPA’s wings over this carbon dioxide issue. They filed a letter of support for the Murkowski/Lincoln Resolution.

"If EPA succeeds in its efforts to trump congress and unilaterally regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, it will be devastating, not just to agriculture, but to the entire U.S. economy," said Tamara Thies, NCBA’s chief Environmental Council. "It would be irresponsible to allow the EPA to move forward on this type of regulation when there’s so much uncertainty surrounding humans’ contribution to climate change."

The Resolution of Disapproval in the Senate would, in effect, reverse EPA’s finding and instead allow the complex issue of climate change to be handled through Congressional debate. In these challenging economic times, we cannot afford to take actions that further jeopardize the ability of the U.S. to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

The Resolution of Disapproval was created in 1996 by the Congressional Review Act and creates an official mechanism for Congress to disagree with the rulings of the Executive Branch. The resolution needs to be voted on by the House and can’t be filibustered. It also needs to be signed into law by the President, which seems unlikely. If it is vetoed, it would need a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate to override the veto, so it seems unlikely that the Murkowski/Lincoln resolution will make it very far.

NCBA and 50 other groups sent a joint letter in support of the resolution. The consensus was that the operating permits alone would cost farmers over $866 million on top of increased input costs as a result of the regulatory impacts on other economic sectors if they were to be regulated for greenhouse gas emissions. EPA says they will start issuing permits to larger emitters of CO2, but they also realize they don’t have the resources to handle the 6.1 million annual applications for the permits.

There still remains a strong case that EPA’s CO2 finding is scientifically flawed. The Murkowski resolution is a referendum, not about climate science, but about the constitutionality of EPA exercising powers not delegated by Congress. The resolution would overturn the "legal force and effect" of the EPA endangerment finding, not the EPA’s scientific reasoning or conclusions.

So, at the end of the day, who do you want dealing with climate policy: a rogue agency of the administration, or Congress, where we’ll likely see a cap-and-tax system that would place our economy in a bigger danger zone than the one we’re already in? — PETE CROW