Playing Power Ball? EPA’s Climate Rules Under Attack

by Bill Chameides | January 6th, 2011
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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Climate refudiaters sound the alarm: we’ve got trouble.

As December 2010 seemed to rush to its conclusion, climate skeptics, whom I affectionately refer to as climate refudiaters, set their sights on the Environmental Protection Agency with a spate of editorials and op-ed’s. As the new Congress settles in, let’s review the attack and set the record straight.

EPA in the Crosshairs

With climate legislation dead in the United States, EPA has become the refudiaters’ favorite target. No doubt this is out of anger and frustration that EPA has begun the process of promulgating rules on carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and other large stationary sources. In anticipation of the first of these rules going into effect on January 2nd, headlines decrying EPA’s “power grab” popped up all across the print and electronic media. 

Interesting coincidence, don’t you think, that the editors of so many independent publications all just happened to use the phrase power grab?

The message in all of these pieces is this: EPA’s moves spell “Trouble” with a Harold-Hill capital “T.” EPA, according to this narrative, is acting improperly, unlawfully even, to promulgate rules on carbon emissions — hence its bald-faced “power grab.”

Here are just a few choice examples. The Washington Times proclaiming that “unelected bureaucrats at the EPA have appropriated the power.” Americans for Prosperity stating on its Web site that “the 1970 Clean Air Act [under which EPA rules are promulgated] clearly does not allow them to regulate.” Upton (the Michigan Republican who is taking over as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee) and Phillips (of Americans for Prosperity) calling the so-called “power grab” by EPA “unconstitutional.”

Wow, disturbing stuff: EPA bureaucrats as unelected despots trampling on the Constitution. Could it really be true?

EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Supreme Court, and What It All Means for Greenhouse Gases

No. There is no power grab. But don’t take my word for it, take the words of the Supreme Court, which ruled in 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA that not only did EPA have the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases, but that the agency was obliged to do so if it found that greenhouse gas emissions pose a danger to public health.

As required by law, EPA studied the issue and found that yes, greenhouse gases “threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.” And so the agency is legally bound to design and implement regulations. There is no power grab, there is no going beyond the law. EPA is simply following its legal obligations as interpreted by the highest court in the land.

OK, So What Exactly Is EPA Doing?

Amid all the hand wringing and economic doom foretold in these editorials and Web pages, one could easily conclude that EPA is exacting hugely restrictive emission controls. The Washington Times warns that EPA’s rules “could force the retirement of older power plants that produce 50,000 to 67,000 megawatts of electricity … [with] as many as 70 million homes … subject to blackouts.”

Power plant closures and blackouts. Yikes, that’s serious stuff. Fortunately it’s also fiction. The rules that just went into effect do not, repeat, do not impose any limitations or restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions.

What EPA began doing on January 2nd is requiring large stationary sources that meet certain criteria to incorporate greenhouse gas emissions into their Clean Air Act permits. EPA has yet to propose a standard and without that there are no mandated emissions reductions at this time. Yes, it is likely that once these standards are promulgated, emission reductions will be mandated, but that will be done with “cost effectiveness” in mind and not before 2012.

As the story goes, the silver-tongued Harold Hill convinced the people of River City that they’d “got trouble” in order to sell them a bill of goods. But this is real life and I don’t buy it.

filed under: carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide emissions, faculty, policy
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