Get ready for the tyranny of the Environmental Protection Agency, because if Congress balks at passing cap-and-trade legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this bureaucratic behemoth will strike, mangling industry and further damaging a recession-plagued economy..
It's the rage, you know, this religious-like dogma about a global warming apocalypse in the absence of turning everything upside down. There's a world summit on the issue in Copenhagen, and even the U.S. Supreme Court got on board two years ago, saying that the EPA should regulate carbon dioxide and other suspected greenhouse gases if they were hammering human health.
The EPA has now said they are doing just that, although EPA knows no such thing, cannot in fact begin to know any such thing. There is a swarm of uncertainties around this matter — endless atmospheric variables, computer models that can't seem to predict much of anything, the consequent ignorance about how much warming might occur and how quickly, questions about how much harm warming might actually cause and (considering some e-mails recently released by hackers) puzzles about the scientific integrity of some true-believing alarmists.
Even if you skip over all of that, insisting that we do know enough to recognize some sort of human-caused peril far down the road, you will still have to figure out what to do. This much is clear — you could shut down a sizable hunk of America's productive power tomorrow and still do precious little to avert rising temperatures if the rest of the world did not cooperate.
But the world is not going to cooperate, and what we therefore have is an extraordinarily dubious reading of the Clean Air Act by both the agency and the court. Essentially, they are contending the law's purpose was for the government to behave futilely to address a distant problem having nothing to do with pollution.
The futility, of course, is just half of it. The other half is the cost of the futile action. A reported statement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce pretty much tells the tale. It says of the EPA decision that there could be "a top-down command-and-control regime that will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project." Some utilities are already making plans to shut down plants, it is reported. America's businesses could turn out to be one endangered species the EPA doesn't much care about.
Part of the scariness here is that, through connivance of unelected judges and bureaucrats, accompanied by pushes from the White House, we're getting rule by executive fiat. Congress could, of course, intervene through passage of measures clarifying the Clean Air Act, but almost certainly won't because of extremely high political risks. And such measures would also almost certainly face vetoes.
Because of likely Democratic defections on top of GOP resistance, Congress had seemed unlikely to pass the cap-and-trade measure that President Barack Obama wants, but now that EPA is threatening regulation anyway, that could change. Some might suppose cap-and-trade the kinder, gentler approach, although some analyses suggest trillions more wasted than any money saved from staving off long-term, fractional temperature reductions.
What is going on here is just barely democracy, and just barely sane. New technologies such as bioengineered trees could avert a far-out warming crisis, as reputable a scientist as Freeman Dyson has argued. Meanwhile there are any number of much more certain problems on which the dollars could better be spent, such as doing more about the near certainty that one of these days terrorists are going to hit us with a biological weapon of mass destruction. To keep from losing hundreds of thousands of lives, we need means of containment that are only partially in place.
WMD — that's a real apocalyptic possibility, and one more deserving of immediate, intense concern than global warming.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at [email protected]