The EPA: They Don't Need No Stinkin' Climate Treaty

On April 2, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency that the EPA had improperly failed to determine that "greenhouse gas emissions" are dangerous and within its jurisdiction. The 5:4 opinion of the Supreme Court, by Justice Stevens, observed:

A well-documented rise in global temperatures has coincided with a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Respected scientists believe the two trends are related. For when carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it acts like the ceiling of a greenhouse, trapping solar energy and retarding the escape of reflected heat. It is therefore a species -- the most important species -- of a "greenhouse gas."

The opinion goes on to cite all sorts of "scientific proof" of anthropogenic global warming, including that found by the United Nations' then-prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). One must wonder whether the result would have been different had the Climategate emails been available and brought to the Suprme Court's attention. The "science" is now far from certain, because climate skeptics have come out of the closet. It was far from certain even before that, but the Climategate emails are the icing on the cow patty.

On December 7, 2009, the EPA did as directed -- in spades:

After a thorough examination of the scientific evidence and careful consideration of public comments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten the public health and welfare of the American people. EPA also finds that GHG emissions from on-road vehicles contribute to that threat.

GHGs are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor or elderly; increases in ground-level ozone pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses; as well as other threats to the health and welfare of Americans.

"These long-overdue findings cement 2009’s place in history as the year when the United States government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "Business leaders, security experts, government officials, concerned citizens and the United States Supreme Court have called for enduring, pragmatic solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing climate change. This continues our work towards clean energy reform that will cut GHGs and reduce the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our national security and our economy."

The EPA is on the job, and flatulent cows and just about everyone else had better watch out.

With the broad mandate handed to the EPA by the Supreme Court in 2007, and with an EPA under the wise guidance of President Obama and no further statutory authority necessary, the EPA can do pretty much as it wishes to control the emission of greenhouse gasses. Worse, should it be found that additional legislation is needed, the EPA will probably get it with only a majority vote in the House and, at most, sixty votes needed in the Senate (only enough to invoke cloture). But additional legislation probably won't be necessary. Sure, there can and probably will be litigation opposing EPA actions, but in the unlikely event that its actions are definitively held by the judiciary to have been procedurally erroneous, years will have passed and the damage to the economy will have been done. Screwing up the economy will be far easier and faster than unscrewing it. The earliest likely chance of starting to undo the mess will come after January 2014, when (I hope) President Obama will have been replaced and the Congress may have reverted to something approaching sanity.

It is obviously possible that President Obama's clout will be diminished by the Copenhagen circus and by either the defeat or passage of other initiatives. I would not count on it. In any event, with the EPA in his pocket, he can easily continue to mess up the economy with or without opposition in Congress, one of the meanest places on Earth.