Good news from the EPA

The US Environmental Protection Authority has announced that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are a threat to public health, which opens the way for them to be regulated under the Clean Air Act, a measure once promised by George Bush as a presidential candidate but ferociously resisted by his administration.

As Brad Plumer explains here, the regulations will transform the Congressional debate over bills to introduce a national cap-and-trade system. In the absence of EPA regulations, and assuming continuation of current practices regarding the filibuster, the Republicans in the Senate could block any action as long as they could muster 41 votes (and of course, ratification of a treaty like Kyoto requires 66 out of 100 votes). But now the effect of a filibuster will be to leave the EPA to deal with the issue by regulation, which might include establishment of emissions trading schemes, as well as technological mandates to adopt best practice technology. Almost certainly, some Senate Republicans will prefer a deal where they get to protect some favored interests to a system of regulation over which they have no say.

The only other possibility for the Repubs, flagged by leading delusionist Senator Inhofe would be to pass legislation overriding the EPA determination. But Inhofe seems to have been drinking too deeply at the well of delusion, or else to be engaging in feelgood gestures – the likelihood of getting a Congressional majority for such an action is close to zero.

This is obviously a major step forward, and means that all governments in the developed world are now committed to reducing CO2 emissions (regardless of how much some would like to backslide on their commitments). The big question now is whether international negotiations can produce an agreement to stabilise the global climate or whether it will be politics as usual, with everyone trying to offer as little as possible.

At this stage, the omens don’t look that good. On the other hand, if you compare the situation now to that of, say, five years ago, when Bush and Howard were blocking any action at all, and climate section “sceptics” were still widely regarded[1] as serious participants in scientific debate, there has been a lot of progress.

fn1. Of course, they are still widely regarded that way in some quarters, but only by people who can’t be regarded as serious participants in debate of any kind.

32 thoughts on “Good news from the EPA

  1. If GW turns out as bad as some predict it could be Mother Nature’s cruel joke on the human race. She warned us but we shrugged it off. What I fear is if it is eventually taken seriously it may be too late, like the lung cancer patient giving up cigarettes. Conservatives might do well do to have an each way bet. If there is a calamitous event near term the knives will be out. In Australia that could be a tidal surge in a coastal resort, a massive regional crop failure, permanent coral bleaching or even a no-snow year. Fire storms and floods no longer seem to sound the alarm bells.

    A strong possibility is that the economic downturn will deliver sustained carbon cuts without administrative intervention. Pundits with runs on the board are predicting a global liquids fuels crisis by 2015. If so there will be no economic recovery. Whether that limits or merely postpones warming from secondary methane release seems unclear.

  2. chrisl & Ikon:

    Its more ignorance and apathy than outright skepticism or denial. Most of the population is (naturally) far more focused on their day-to-day life than big, slow moving issues like climate change. People are much more worried about their employment security at the moment than climate change or other “environmental” issues. Concern about the environment is fine during boom times, but its a luxury you can’t afford when you don’t have a job.

    It is going to take more than computer simulations,recycled pictures of ice shelves cracking or pictures of steam coming out of power stations.

    It sure is. It will take a catastrophe of 2004 tsunami proportions, in Australia, and by then it will be too late.

    The only plausible course of action, prior to catastrophe, is to engineer a cleantech bubble. Its positive, it will restart investment, and it will create jobs. The politicians won’t use sticks so we have to use carrots. We need to get Mum and Dad investors talking about investing in windfarms instead of real estate, BHP, and the big 4.

  3. Carbonsink: To emphasise your point -Its more ignorance and apathy than outright skepticism or denial- I spoke to some old friends on the weekend who are selling their perfectly good 25 square home and are building a 50 square home. And they are empty nesters!
    They obviously didn’t get the memo.

  4. Jack, I think generally you are right about things, but you do go on a bit too long and you do have to point out how right you always are. Try to be a bit briefer and reader-friendly.

  5. This announcement is a very useful bargaining chip for the administration when trying to deal with congress. It increases the likelihood that the Waxman-Markey emissions trading legislation will get through congress. While the trajectory in the Waxman-Markey legislation is not sufficent to avoid dangerous climate change or get developing countries to take on their own emission reduction commitments, it is a good first step.

    It therefore follows that the next international agreement needs some flexibility to tighten the emissions reduction trajectory later.

    A crucial difference between the Waxman-Markey legislation and the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation is that the Waxman-Markey legislation specifies an upper bound for the US’s emissions, while the CPRS also specifies a lower bound. This problem with the CPRS could be addressed by removing paragraphs 2(b) and 3(b) from Section 15 of the Exposure Draft Legislation.

  6. BOTH sides of the debate seem to think the EPA Endangerment finding is “good news”.

    In the world’s most litigious domain, the EPA’s preliminary ruling is no more than a starter’s gun. Numerous well-funded lobbies which have fulminated in the past about IPCC Reports now have a justiciable issue.Where there is real risk of adverse regulation (by an Agency exercising delegated powers) there is access to the Courts.

    Like “the culture wars”, this issue will only be determined by the Supreme Court (currently conservative). Meantime,the EPA’s findings will remain a matter of opinion.

  7. #28 Dave Says: April 22nd, 2009 at 2:02 am

    Jack, I think generally you are right about things, but you do go on a bit too long and you do have to point out how right you always are. Try to be a bit briefer and reader-friendly.

    Dave,

    Thankyou for your kind compliment, accurate criticism and useful advice.

    Its always a struggle to curb my innate tendency to long-winded, incomprehensible and offensive commentary.

    I will try to keep it under control. Not making any rash predictions on this one, though.

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