NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 24, 2009

Last Friday the Environmental Protection Agency decided to play cap-and-trade roulette with the U.S. economy by ruling that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant that threatens the public and therefore must be regulated under the 1970 Clean Air Act.  This so-called "endangerment finding" sets the clock ticking on a vast array of taxes and regulation that EPA will have the power to impose across the economy, and all with little or no political debate.  This is a momentous decision that has the potential to affect the daily life of every American, says the Wall Street Journal.

Peter Glaser, an environmental lawyer at Troutman Sanders, told Congress in 2008, "The country will experience years, if not decades, of regulatory agony, as EPA will be required to undertake numerous, controversial, time-consuming, expensive and difficult regulatory proceedings, all of which ultimately will be litigated."

The EPA has now opened this Pandora's box:

  • The centerpiece of the Clean Air Act is something called the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) under which the EPA decides the appropriate atmospheric concentration of a given air pollutant.
  • Under this law the states must adopt measures to meet a NAAQS goal, and the costs cannot be considered.
  • For global warming, this is going to be a hugely expensive futility parade.

Greenhouse gases mix in the atmosphere, and it doesn't matter where they come from.  A ton of emissions from Ohio has the same effect on global CO2 as a ton emitted in China; and even if Ohio figured out a way to reduce its emissions to zero, it would still have no control over the carbon content in its ambient air.  But under the law, EPA would be required to severely punish Ohio -- and every state -- for not complying with NAAQS, says the Journal.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA also must regulate all "major" sources of emissions that emit more than 250 tons of an air pollutant in a year.  That includes "any building, structure, facility or installation."  This might be a reasonable threshold for conventional pollutants such as sulfur oxide (SOX) or nitrogen oxide (NOX), but it's extremely low for carbon.  Hundreds of thousands of currently unregulated sources will suddenly be subject to the EPA's preconstruction permitting and review, including schools, hospitals, malls, restaurants, farms and colleges.  According to EPA, the average permit today takes 866 hours for a source to prepare, and 301 hours for EPA to process.  So this regulatory burden will increase by several orders of magnitude, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Reckless 'Endangerment': The Obama EPA plays 'Dirty Harry' on cap and trade," Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2009.

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