Will we see cap and trade legislation pass the Senate this year? My optimism in the wake of the House passage of cap and trade legislation had been starting to wane. But news last month that the EPA believed that six greenhouse gases, including carbon and methane, endangered the environment and health of Americans and that it would seek to regulate their emission under the Clean Air Act (CAA) is cause for encouragement. When regulators act to move into new terrain, legislators tend to reach for their pen.
Predictably, the loudest yelps at the EPA news came from big polluters and those who believe 99% of environmental scientists are wrong – that their PhDs came with a box of breakfast cereal – and that a small crowd of bought-and-paid-for warmer denier ideologues are on the right track.
Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, announced that that she would once again attempt to bring legislation to prevent the EPA from acting to regulate carbon for one year, this time by attaching the provision to debt legislation. The Union of Concerned Scientists quite rightly called the ploy ‘reckless and irresponsible’ and an unnecessary distraction from the urgent need for the Senate to pass cap and trade legislation.
What’s wrong with the EPA doing the job? They have a decent track record in reducing air-born pollutants under the CAA when they are allowed. Just yesterday the EPA announced tighter regulations on smog or ground-level ozone. Under the Bush Presidency, levels were set higher than scientific consensus agreed is safe for human health.
The one advantage of cap and trade over EPA regulation is that cap and trade places a price on greenhouse gas pollutants. That pollution market revenue can then be used in a host of useful ways to ease and accelerate the transition to a greener America.
The transition to a green economy is necessary for global security but it won’t be a seamless process. It will have costs whether under a cap and trade system or state agency regulation.
The difference under EPA regulation is that pollutants won’t be priced or tradable and any relief to low-income people or grants to spur innovation or assistance to enable industries to move to more environmentally sustainable production processes would have to come out of general revenue.
This is partly why key Senate moderates such as Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) aren’t too keen on the thought of EPA action. Hopefully, the EPA will do its job, as so often with regulatory agencies, by threatening to do something new thereby forcing the Senate to take up the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill before the beach comes to us rather than vice-versa.