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Lisa Jackson yesterday announced the EPA's finding that carbon emissions threatened the U.S. via global warming and were thus covered under the Clean Air Act. She plans to implement tough new fuel economy restrictions and new restrictions on manufacturing and power businesses.  (Source: The Detroit News)

The findings give ammo to President Obama's plan to crack down on polluting vehicles. Under the plan by 2016 automakers will have to achieve a fleetwide efficiency of 34.1 mpg or face steep fines.  (Source: Dugan Racing)
Is our lifestyle threatening our planet? The EPA thinks so.

Climate change has taken on the trappings of high drama.  Recent leaked climate emails are threatening to discredit much of the work of a significant UK climate center by suggesting manipulation of the peer review process and falsification of data and advocates of warming are pointing to countless other studies worldwide and suggesting that the time for action is now.  In Copenhagen, world climate talks have began.

And it appears one way or another the U.S. is going to get tough on emissions.  President Obama recently promised to cut U.S. emissions by 83 percent by 2050.  Yesterday, the EPA announced that it would be moving to bypass Congress and implement the foundation of such cuts.

Currently a global warming bill that would implement a carbon trading scheme -- the plan to cut emissions endorsed by President Obama -- has passed the House, but is stuck in a deadlocked Senate with the vote drawn largely on partisan lines.  An alternate route has emerged, to push through climate regulations, though.  The foundation of this approach stems from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that global warming was covered by the previously passed Clean Air Act. 

The EPA has been evaluating this claim and yesterday announced that its "endangerment finding" revealed that carbon emissions were indeed a threat to the nation's health and covered under the clean air act.  Describes EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, "This long-overdue finding cements 2009's place in history as the year when the United States government began seriously addressing the challenge of greenhouse gas pollution.  [Greenhouse gases] are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor or elderly; increases in ground-level ozone pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses."

The agency's plans to implement new rules to combat this "threat' are now being aired.

The biggest immediate impact of the decision will be its role in enabling the fuel economy mandates delivered by President Obama.  Under the mandates, large automakers will need to implement fleetwide efficiency of 34.1 mpg by 2016.  That provision is expected to cost the automakers $60B USD.  The plan will essentially push California's emissions targets onto the entire nation.  Advocates say the efficiency upgrade is long overdue.  Critics, though, complain that it will damage an already sick industry.

Similar criticisms exist about the other half of the EPA's action plan -- its plan to regulate greenhouse gases from the power and manufacturing industries.  Some argue that this will result in higher power costs and the movement of manufacturing business overseas to countries like China that do not yet regulate greenhouse emissions.

Jeff Holmstead, EPA air administrator from 2001-05, during the Bush administration, delivered mixed praise for the initiatives.  He states, "[The decision is a] necessary prerequisite for the regulation of greenhouse gases from cars, trucks, businesses, factories, farms, and potentially even apartment buildings, schools, and hospitals.  The hard part is still to come. EPA now has to figure out how it will regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act without undermining the fragile economic recovery."

Robert Meyers, who led the EPA air and radiation office under President George W. Bush, comments that the EPA is approaching the point of no return when it comes to implementing regulation.  He comments, "The main event is to come. EPA indicates that new rules will be issued starting next spring. It will be very difficult to turn back, much less undo all that will be done."

Some businesses and lobbies have threatened to sue the EPA to try to block any new regulations, should they be put into place.

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By BlackIceHorizon on 12/8/2009 1:18:26 PM , Rating: 3
A good plan other than the fact that our costs *are changing*. Gasoline and other petroleum derived substances will continue to increase in price, while non-fossil technologies continue to decrease in price. Certainly some will decry the $60 billion (!) this specific standard is projected to cost the automotive industry (American and foreign alike) over a decade. But we spend ten times that annually funding our military, a good portion of which goes to preferentially securing oil rich areas. Our military investment in the Middle East already outweighs the monetary value of the fossil fuels found there, in strict economic terms. That's not even accounting for the other costs to the U.S. of our foreign energy dependence (political destabilization and radicalization in foreign countries, significant exportation of national wealth through an increased trade deficit, proven health effects of fossil pollutants, etc.). We need to reform our energy systems for myriad reasons, and profit is certainly one of them, in addition to the specter of climate change.

That being said, this regulation-heavy bureaucratic approach strikes me as exactly the wrong way to go about these reforms. If we're going to transition to superior energy solutions (nuclear and wind power, more efficient vehicles and mass transit, etc.) it will happen most efficiently and productively through market-friendly approaches - the antithesis of these new regulations. Hardcore Republicans bristle at the notion, but we need new taxes and less regulation. A gradually scaling gas tax, and a similar strategy with GHGs would do everything we need to promote RD&D of superior technologies through a market incentive without the inefficient and bureaucratic nightmare that will be these GHG regulations. Such taxes can even be revenue neutral by legislative provisions requiring commensurate income tax cuts, for example. We need a reform system that is cheaper to implement and less prone to nepotism and special interest lobbying pressure for specific concessions than our government is ever capable of.

Libertarians like those on this site are right to denounce the institution of the legally-complex nightmares that are our current reform proposals. But such cries will fall on deaf ears without superior alternative solutions. It's time to stop simply griping about how our government is doing it the wrong way and start lobbying with serious policy alternatives.

"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings

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