By John McClaughry
To the relief of a majority of Americans — and a very large majority of Vermonters — the presidency of George W. Bush will terminate on January 20. But President Bush will likely leave America with one final gift, one that if carried through by the Obama administration will wreck what's left of our productive economy.
The wrapper on this improvised explosive device reads "Environmental Protection Agency Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: Regulating Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act."
This ugly story began back in 2003 when a bunch of hyper-enviro attorneys general, predictably including Vermont's William Sorrell, petitioned EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act.
They did so because the Bush Administration had reversed a finding by a Clinton-era EPA lawyer that CO2 was a "pollutant" subject to regulation.
Unlike the pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act — things like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ozone — CO2 is no threat to healthy lungs. In fact, and fortunately for human life, healthy lungs produce CO2 with every exhaled breath.
The petitioners argued that CO2 may not produce diseased lungs, but a higher concentration of it will endanger human health and welfare.
That's because, so "scientists" say, increased emissions will bring on the Menace of Global Warming, the ice caps will melt, sea levels will rise, malaria will spread, and the polar bear population will shrink.
The Bush EPA denied the petition. Sorrell & Co. went to the D.C. appeals court. It ruled against them. They then appealed to the Supreme Court. And in one of the most ludicrous (5-4) opinions of the past century, the Court's most liberal justice decreed that despite the lack of any legislative history supporting CO2 regulation, and despite the fact that twice the U.S. Senate voted down proposals to require CO2 regulation, EPA had to decide whether CO2 emission was a danger to the public, and if so, regulate it.
At this point a real President would have announced, "Look. When Congress, on the record, passes a law to require EPA to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants — over my veto — I will faithfully execute that law. In the meantime I have no intention of letting EPA bureaucrats wreck our
battered economy by issuing sweeping regulations over activity that Congress has never voted to regulate."
"If Justice Stevens and his four friends believe so strongly that CO2 emissions should be subject to Federal regulation, they are free to work to elect a Congress that will do what even Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid don't dare to do. Good luck. And if the five honorable justices think that's beneath their dignity, they can retire to their chambers and pound sand."
Unfortunately this country does not have such a President. Instead, the Bush EPA put out this Notice that the Wall Street Journal observed "would [if finalized] trigger an economy-wide cascade of new rules and mandates. Just about everything that emits carbon [dioxide] would be affected, including cars, factories and power plants, but also farms schools, hospitals, restaurants, and office buildings."
Michigan Congressman John Dingell, the venerable Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said the proposed regulations had "the potential for shutting down or slowing down virtually all industry and all economic activity and growth." It would surely wreck what's left of the U.S. auto industry.
The Notice governs not only industries, power plants, cars, trucks and airplanes, but also greenhouse gas emissions from dairy herds of more than 25 cows. It would regulate logging and farms with over 500 acres of crops, farm tractors, and lawn and garden equipment. EPA even proposes regulations
for snowmobiles and dirt bikes.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has followed this issue carefully from the beginning, points out that an EPA finding of "endangerment" could also compel the agency to establish new National
Ambient Air Quality Standards for CO2. Since Sorrel and the enviros contend that existing greenhouse gas concentrations are already harming public health and welfare, EPA would have to issue NAAQS below current atmospheric levels. To reduce those concentrations would almost certainly require a
carbon tax built into the price of every product, and a tariff to assess a similar charge on imports.
Enviros can harmlessly amuse themselves by prancing around the state house lawn in polar bear suits, but this is serious business. Vermonters, whose state gave Barack Obama such a huge margin of victory, might want to suggest to the new President that this economy-wrecking madness ought to be thrown out along with other unpopular policies of the departing Bush administration.
John McClaughry is President of the Ethan Allen Institute