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Carlin: The Politicization of the EPA — an Administration's Radical Gamble (PJM Exclusive)

On Monday, the EPA announced its endangerment finding for greenhouse gases. One can infer from the timing of the announcement that the administration may have taken this action at this time in order to bring something to the table at the Copenhagen COP15 meeting.

From a scientific viewpoint, it was an odd time to do so — given that the very recent Climategate disclosures would presumably have taken some time to digest and analyze for their possible effects on vital conclusions. So the timing may have been based more on the political, rather than the scientific, factors involved.

But from a larger viewpoint, the U.S. president who was going to find a way to resolve partisan bickering in Washington has now embarked on a major escalation of the conflict — by using the power he holds over executive branch agencies to fight his enemies in Congress over the issue of global warming.

Although the EPA has always been, organizationally, an arm of the administration in power, until this administration the EPA has generally been able to maintain the appearance (if not the reality) of being science-based.

That is now much harder to maintain.

Originally, the rumor was that the purpose of the endangerment finding would be to pressure Congress into approving a cap and trade bill. Now, it appears fairly clear that the administration will not be able to gather the needed votes in the Senate to pass the bill — at least this year, and probably even next year, either with or without an endangerment finding. So there would seem to be little reason to push the endangerment finding now — unless they intended to use it as the basis for negotiating at COP15.

Some Major Political Risks

This EPA endangerment approach carries major risks for the administration. The first risk is that the EPA’s apparently politically motivated endangerment finding may be overturned in the now-inevitable court reviews.

The second risk is that when greenhouse gas regulations should be announced — and certainly when they should ever be implemented — the full responsibility will obviously fall onto the administration, rather than being shared between the administration and Congress (which is what would occur if Congress ever adopted a cap and trade bill). If constituents end up being unhappy with the resulting regulations, and particularly the greatly increased energy costs and decreased employment that will result, it will be obvious who was responsible.

And there may well be some very unhappy constituents.

A third risk is that they will not be able to contain the EPA’s actions, since the law clearly specifies that much smaller sources are subject to regulation than they now contemplate, and legal action may force the EPA to regulate smaller sources whether it wants to or not.

A fourth risk is that the added uncertainties created by the finding, and the added costs in terms of higher energy prices and reduced employment, will further weaken the administration’s claims to be primarily interested in combating the recession — the issue currently most on the mind of voters.

Additional Risks from the Negotiations Needed to Insure a Worldwide Effort

Suppose the COP15 meeting is unable to reach an agreement that the administration can sell domestically. Or suppose that there is agreement on a new climate protocol and it comes into force, but only a few countries actually live up to what they have agreed to, as has been the case for the Kyoto Protocol. What little effect reductions in CO2 may have on global temperatures would be lost in the increased emissions from those countries that do not take promised reductions seriously.

Suppose the developing world will only support a new treaty if the developed world pays the bill (as they have done so far). Is the administration willing to support a massive foreign aid bill providing funds to the UN (or one of its agencies such as the World Bank) to disperse as they may, in the middle of the most serious recession of the postwar era?

Suppose the Russians agree to a new treaty only if their credits resulting from the collapse of Soviet-era manufacturing are honored in a new protocol, meaning they would face very limited requirements.

The administration seems to be gambling not only that Americans will not rebel against the potential EPA restrictions, but that it can push through a massive UN-administered foreign aid program. And then there is the problem of how to get any possible new protocol through the Senate — which would require 67 votes, rather than the 60 needed for cap and trade.

All this seems to be quite a gamble.

And just to make things worse for the administration, it is not only now clear that key parts of the global warmists’/UN science is scientifically incorrect (see my March Comments and my more recent blog post), it is now also clear how their science came to be the way it is. We now have the actual computer programs used to bring this about, as well as some of the email and programming comments of some of those working to bring this about. Even Mother Nature is not cooperating, with very cold, wintry weather sweeping the United States this week.

The Administration’s Agenda

Finally, public support for the global warming/UN science and greenhouse gas regulation is dropping rapidly.

Is it wise for the administration to take all these risks from a political viewpoint? Or is the outcome going to be similar to the recent one in Australia, where last week Parliament turned down a cap a trade bill for the second time?

Unless the administration is driven solely by a radical environmental agenda come what may, the only rational conclusion is that they think they can somehow overcome all these major risks. The loss of even one of these sub-gambles may doom the lot.

So perhaps they are driven primarily by environmental dogma, rather than political calculation? Maybe they actually still believe they are saving the world, despite the demonstrably bad science they have endorsed in order to support this view?

The Skeptics Are Unlikely to Compromise

On the other side of the issue, the skeptics are unlikely to be willing to compromise, given the recent confirmation of their suspicions concerning how the warmists’ science was derived. From their viewpoint, there appear to be only a limited number of options:

  1. Assume that at least one of the lawsuits that may emerge will be upheld by the courts.
  2. Look for a must-pass bill to attach a rider prohibiting funds being used to implement greenhouse gas controls under the Clean Air Act.
  3. Use the Congressional Review Act to overrule the endangerment finding.

Whichever of these options the skeptics may pursue, the outcome will be the still further politicization of the EPA. This may have much longer lasting effects than the current fight over global warming control, and could lead to the end of the EPA as a primarily science-based agency.