The Clean Air Act turned 40 last year, as did the Environmental Protection Agency, which was created to enforce that new law and others Congress adopted to reduce all types of pollution.
But it has taken this many years for the EPA to begin flexing its regulatory muscles to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the principle culprit linked to climate change.
For many years the agency claimed that the Clean Air Act didn’t authorize it to regulate carbon dioxide. But in 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA was violating the act by wrongly declining to regulate emissions to control pollutants that cause global warming.
The court majority told the agency, then under the Bush administration, to reverse course and begin regulating these emissions. Nothing much happened until the Obama administration took charge, however.
Now the EPA is stepping up. Last week it released a timetable for issuing rules for emissions from new or refurbished power plants and new oil refineries, the nation’s top emitters of carbon dioxide. The proposed performance standards for power plants will be issued next July, with the final rules coming in May 2012. Proposed standards for oil refineries will be out next December and finalized in November 2012.
Rules for existing power plants and refineries won’t come until at least 2015, so though the agency has stepped up, it is a fairly small step.
Nevertheless, the announcement angered House Republicans, who will be in control next year. Some GOP lawmakers have vowed to cut the EPA’s funding as a way to scale back its regulatory powers. But someone in Washington has to tackle global-warming threats head-on, and the U.S. Supreme Court, hardly a liberal bastion, has decided that it should be the EPA. The EPA bashers in Congress are sticking their heads in the sand in refusing to recognize growing evidence that climate change is already upon us and that those changes bode no good.
One need look no further than The Weather Channel. The massive Northeast blizzard that shut down JFK and other airports this week and the record cold in South Florida could very well be the products of a warming Earth.
Climate change is defined as more-extreme weather patterns, winter and summer. This has been a year of extremes — record flooding in Pakistan, a drought in Russia, for example. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced recently that 2010 was the hottest year on record.
What more proof is needed to convince skeptics?
The EPA announcement promised that it would consider costs and benefits of available emission-control technology, such as coal gasification and carbon-capture systems, but it was vague on exactly what level of emissions reductions it will require. No doubt the rules will be challenged legally, as almost all new EPA regulations are.
But at least the agency has begun to act on one of the biggest global threats of the 21st century. The EPA is off to a good start in its 41st year of existence.