EPA’s “Power Grab” More of a Tiptoe

Clean air, clean water, open spaces — these should once again be the birthright of every American.

We must strike a balance so that the protection of our irreplaceable heritage becomes as important as its use. The price of economic growth need not and will not be deterioration in the quality of our lives and our surroundings.

The above quotes were not said by anyone from Greenpeace or the World Wildlife Fund, but by Richard Nixon forty years ago during his Presidential administration.  It was during Nixon’s presidency that the Environmental Protection Agency was created and other environmental-related legislation was passed.  Now as the EPA enters its fifth decade, howls of protest have erupted over accusations that somehow the Obama administration will use back-door tactics such as executive privilege and executive orders to allow the EPA to impose “cap-and-trade” on American businesses.

This is a bizarre time in American politics: a huge giveaway to health insurance companies is described as “socialist,” Michelle Obama is on the warpath to ban dessert, and an administration brimming with well-connected Wall Street veterans must be “Marxist.”  And true, many on the left love to toss out cliches without understanding what they mean–and are often quick to describe ideas or policies as “corporate,” “capitalist,” or “mainstream,” as if those terms always have a bad meaning.  But now the latest bellyaching has festered because of the United States’ need to tackle dependence on imported fossil fuels and the potential effects of greenhouse gases:  many commentators describe the EPA’s latest moves as a “power grab.”

For now, cap-and-trade is dead.  Any legislation that would build a market based approach to control air pollution and greenhouse gases through providing economic incentives for a reduction in the emission of pollutants will not occur for a while.  What has happened is that the EPA has been granted to green light to carry on its legal responsibilities under the Clean Air Act as it was revised in 1970:

. . . prescribe (and from time to time revise)  . . .  standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.

Under the Bush Administration, greenhouse gases were not considered pollutants.  The question was settled in a Supreme Court case in 2007, and whether you agree or not, it is settled law.  After the Bush administration dragged its feet, followed by his successor’s  . . . taking its time, the EPA is enforcing the law.

Nevertheless, as David Roberts explains in an article on Grist, the EPA is actually taking a more moderate approach to regulate greenhouse gases.  A more radical approach would have been to declare the entire country non-compliant and declared that 350 parts per million would be the safest level of carbon dioxide in the air.  The EPA could have also imposed a cap-and-trade system on its own, and impose a set number of “pollution” permits that would have incrementally declined each year.

The fact is that like the President, who is its current boss, the EPA is taking a cautious, measured approach that many advocates claim is not going far enough.  The EPA is tackling, or more accurately, nudging industry by requiring improved performance standards that in the end could even allow these facilities to make money.  The EPA is only doing what it is charged to do and what the courts have reiterated:  not more, and actually, a lot less.  In the end, greater energy efficiency at power plants and large manufacturing facilities will save these companies money–especially with the rise in fuel prices that we will witness this year.

Leon Kaye is the editor and founder of GreenGoPost.com, and can be followed on Twitter.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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