Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Rep. from Alaska) has been leading the charge to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s initiative to regulate green gas emissions, and it now looks like she’ll get an up-or-down vote on the issue by early June. We’re not entirely unsympathetic: virtually all supporters of climate change legislation, including us, would rather have Congress make the policy on an issue this important (and expensive). Nor, though, are we naïve. The EPA’s legal authority to move ahead on its own offers critical leverage in getting the Senate to pass a decent bill.
The EPA claimed the authority to regulate greenhouse emissions under the Clean Air Act. Its final rule, issued on May 13, would require roughly 550 large emitters putting out more 100,000 tons of carbon annually to apply for permits by the middle of next year. That would cover some 70 percent of emissions, setting the stage for rules ratcheting down the quantity dumped.
How the EPA regulations, governed by a quarter-century-old law, would play out is anyone’s guess. But that’s just the point: The threat of the unknown should force interests that oppose any emissions limits to negotiate a deal that can be embodied in compromise legislation.
Blackmail? Of a sort, but there’s plenty of precedent. Back in the 1970s, manufacturers had little problem convincing the Reagan Administration to drag its heels on legislated mandates to set efficiency standards for residential appliances. (Whether standards were a good idea is another matter, though not relevant here.) By the late-1980s so many states had set their own appliance standards, though, that the industry had little choice but to accept a uniform national standard that preempted the states.
Bottom line: You don’t have to like the way sausage is made to enjoy an occasional nosh.