Is EPA Action on CO2 Coming?

By Chris Mooney | April 14, 2009 8:28 am

Fully two years ago, in Mass. v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Bush administration’s EPA to determine whether vehicular carbon dioxide emissions endanger public health and welfare under the Clean Air Act.

The Bush administration essentially ignored this direct order.

Now, FT reports that the Obama EPA is on the verge of doing the opposite–which is an extremely big deal. The EPA already submitted its endangerment finding to the Office of Management and Budget; the next step, as I understand it, would be full administration approval.

Basically, if the EPA starts moving towards global warming regulations, then Congress had better put its weight on the scales quick, or else “unelected bureaucrats” (to anticipate the negative spin) will be determining how we deal with carbon dioxide emissions, a decision with dramatic implications for the economy and the future.

Everybody agrees that it’s better for Congress to pass a new law on global warming than to have regulations go through the administrative process at EPA. And yet if Congress fails to lead–and so far, it’s hard to tell whether there will really be 60 Senate votes–then there’s every reason to expect the Obama EPA will just keep on moving, doing what the Supreme Court said to do.

Members of Congress who oppose global warming legislation this year really ought to keep that in mind. The reality is that global warming regulation is going to happen, one way or another. Any responsible leader in this context would try to get us the best, democratically enacted policy–not to block progress.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Energy, Global Warming, Politics

Comments (6)

  1. Michael

    This is the acme of bureaucratic insanity. CO2 is NOT a pollutant–it’s a natural gas produced by a myrid of natural processes. The American people are just about fed up with this silly business, and I expect a severe political backlash. And about time.

  2. Jon Winsor

    “CO2 is NOT a pollutant”

    That argument IS a semantic one.

  3. Dr. Schund has diagnosed the horrors of a much more pervasive infrared absorber, a volatile substance with a huge permanent dipole moment suited to converting the Earth into a whopping convection oven, present in tremendous and tremendously growing atmospheric concentration,

    and its cure!

  4. Michael huffs: CO2 is NOT a pollutant–it’s a natural gas produced by a myrid [sic] of natural processes.

    Lead is a natural element occurring in many natural minerals. Pollutant or not?

    Mercury is a natural element occurring in many natural minerals. Pollutant or not?

    Carbon monoxide is a naturally occurring gas. Pollutant or not?

    Sulfur dioxide is a naturally occurring gas. Pollutant or not?

    Ozone is a naturally occurring gas. Pollutant or not?

    Radon is a naturally occurring gas. Pollutant or not?

    And on and on and on…

  5. I am waiting for the time when any positive action that Obama takes will be so predictable that it won’t be a big deal anymore.

  6. MadScientist


    How about “sulphur dioxide is *NOT* a pollutant; it is a natural gas emitted in large quantities by volcanoes and fumaroles around the world”? I don’t agree that CO2 should be branded as a ‘pollutant’ but “it’s natural” is not a good reason to say something isn’t a pollutant.

    What concerns me the most is what do people think needs to be done? The usual bureaucratic approach is to pile on the taxes and not care about actually encouraging the development of alternatives.

    The regulators also need to be extremely careful about what they label CO2; even “pollutant” could have dire consequences for later legislation and management. If CO2 becomes known as a pollutant, hazardous waste, or industrial waste, then semi-permanent storage of CO2 in deep geological formations (as is currently done with some ‘acid gas’ mixtures) could become a problem. Rather than ‘storing’ an ‘inert gas’ which is hazardous only beyond a certain concentration in air, companies will suddenly find themselves classified as engaging in ‘hazardous waste disposal’. This will also have effects on the use of CO2 in “enhanced oil recovery” operations; so much so that the enhanced recovery techniques may be rendered commercially unviable.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


See More

Collapse bottom bar