January 15, 2010 | Commentary on Energy and Environment, Regulation

The Environmentalist's Profound Arrogance

Is this America? Over the past year, we have seen a new Administration and Congress make a concerted effort to give the federal government expansive power over nearly every sector of our economy. Polls show that the American people are uneasy with this big government approach and the impact it will have on our country's future. That suspicion is especially pronounced when it comes to global warming.

Last month, an unnamed White House official told Fox News that if Congress does not pass cap-and-trade legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "is going to have to regulate in this area." He went on to say that "it is not going to be able to regulate on a market-based way, so it's going to have to regulate in a command-and-control way, which will probably generate even more uncertainty." That uncertainty and the de facto energy tax that comes along with greenhouse gas regulations will create a destructive economic climate and ultimately lead to less consumer choice.

It is worth reviewing how we got to this startling point. In 2007, the Supreme Court told the Bush Administration they could not side step the question as to whether greenhouse gases endangered public health and thus must be regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA). Unfortunately, many policymakers, including some in the previous administration, bought into a narrative that suggests the Court compelled the regulation of greenhouse gases. It is not true, though. Nonetheless, the Bush Administration set forth the regulatory process the Obama Administration has since finalized, setting the stage for the EPA to regulate nearly anything that emits greenhouse gases.

What do I mean by anything? Hospitals. Churches. Schools. Restaurants. The EPA itself has acknowledged their regulations will entangle nearly 6 million new facilities. Command-and-control indeed!

To work themselves around this inconvenient problem, they have advocated Congress pass cap-and-trade legislation so the EPA will not be compelled to regulate. However, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said "this is not an either/or moment. This is a both/and moment." The bureaucrats at the EPA have also contacted a so-called tailoring rule, which seeks to exempt the smaller entities from regulation. In doing so, they appear to be in direct violation of the CAA - raising the emissions threshold from 250 tons per year to 25,000 tons per year.

Why would environmentalist groups that believe global warming is an imminent threat allow the CAA to be, in effect, weakened by executive fiat? Two reason.

First, regulating smaller entities is enormous. The EPA estimates (on page 257) these small entities will incur more than $55 billion in costs absent the tailoring rule. The environmentalist agenda often conflicts with enterprising Americans, but $55 billion represents an outright assault. The environmentalists are savvy enough to avoid this fight, for now.

Second, the environmentalists also understand those entities will eventually be covered in that exact command-and-control style discussed by the unnamed official. Indeed, the same EPA document details the $55 billion as "regulatory burden relief proposed by this [tailoring] rule" specifies that these are for "sources not covered during first phase." The environmentalists are well aware that this is a first step.

Americans do not embrace radical changes, but the environmentalists and their friends on the left have been very adept at making incremental gains in all areas of public policy. Now we are seeing a bold effort to slowly but surely move our nation's energy policy (and thus everything that uses energy) to a command-and-control system.

The real question is did the environmentalists think no one would notice? The profound arrogance of the outside groups (NRDC, Sierra Club, Green Peace, etc.) who are driving our nation's energy policies is startling. Even more startling for the American people is that this Administration appears to be listening and many Members of Congress seem willing to go along for the ride.

Sure, folks like Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Representatives Rick Boucher (D-PA), Dennis Cardoza (D-CA), John Dingell (D-MI),

Collin Peterson (D-MN), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and even Henry Waxman (D-CA), OMB Director Peter Orszag and once upon a time EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have expressed serious concerns with EPA regulations.

If Members of Congress are truly concerned with the specter of EPA regulations, they could force the EPA to abandon their regulatory scheme in any number of ways. A straight forward solution would be to clarify that the CAA was never meant to regulate greenhouse gases. The other would be to move forward with a disapproval resolution as outlined by the Congressional Review Act. This is what was used to repeal the Clinton-era ergonomics standards in 2001. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representative Jerry Moran (R-KS) have introduced the resolutions.

The NRDC blasted the resolution as "irresponsible." The Sierra Club called it a "cynical ploy" designed to "place a blindfold over America." To suggest Congress should not review the action of un-elected officials is the height of arrogance. Americans deserve better.

Dan Holler is deputy director of U.S. Senate Relations at The Heritage Foundation.

First Appeared in the Daily Caller

First Appeared in the Daily Caller

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Dan Holler Vice President, Communications and Government Relations
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First Appeared in the Daily Caller