Thursday, December 18, 2014
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Can the EPA stop global climate change?

The U.S. Supreme Court this week ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency may use the Clean Air Act to regulate major sources of greenhouse gases, such as factories and power plants. The agency wants to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent over the next 15 years.

But the court added, in a complex opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, that the EPA’s power is not unlimited. “It bears mention that EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” Scalia said. “It sought to regulate sources that it said were responsible for 86 percent of all the greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources nationwide. Under our holdings, EPA will be able to regulate sources responsible for 83 percent of those emissions.”

Is the ruling a victory for the environment? Or does the court’s decision clear the way for more government overreach? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the Red-Blue America columnists, weigh in.

Ben Boychuk

Understand what the U.S. Supreme Court said this week: it proclaimed, on the one hand, that a powerful federal agency may not rewrite federal law to achieve a particular policy goal; and, on the other hand, the justices allowed the same powerful federal agency to still impose sweeping rules in order to reach that same goal.

The complex 5-4 decision is filled with partial concurrences and partial dissents, but Justice Scalia couldn’t have been more clear: Instead of getting to regulate 86 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA may only regulate 83 percent. Some limit!

“To permit the extra 3 percent . . . we would have to recognize a power in EPA and other government agencies to revise clear statutory terms,” Scalia said. To do so, he added, would contradict “the principle that Congress, not the president, makes the law.”

With all due respect to Justice Scalia, that’s hardly reassuring. Congress has long deferred its lawmaking power to administrative agencies – like the EPA – with disastrous consequences.

The good news is the federal government won’t necessarily be able to regulate carbon emissions from retail stores, fast-food restaurants, apartment buildings, schools or churches. The bad news is, the federal government remains bent on controlling carbon dioxide output from factories and – crucially – coal-fired power plants.

If the Obama administration has its way, Americans would pay nearly $290 billion more for electricity between 2014 and 2030. The feds would weaken the nation’s power grid and undermine the economy in pursuit of a folly – namely, “taking the lead” against “global climate change.”

Meantime, as the Sydney Morning Herald reported earlier this month, “the amount of the U.S. cuts would be replaced more than three times over by projected increases in China alone.”

The EPA’s goals have little to do with environmental protection. Averting a “climate disaster” is secondary to asserting control over an ever-larger slice of the private economy.

But that reality won’t hit home until lower- and middle-income families see their utility bills double and triple. Then the Supreme Court’s “limited” ruling will prove to be cold comfort to millions of literally powerless Americans.

Joel Mathis

Well, thank goodness for the Supreme Court.

Those aren’t words that liberals get to utter very often, but they’ve occurred just often enough in recent years to suggest that not all hope is lost, even though conservatives hold a 5-4 majority on the court.

Three rulings – affirming the legality of Obamacare, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, and now largely upholding the powers of the Environmental Protection Agency – have enabled the liberal agenda to proceed during the Obama years despite the obstruct-at-all-costs opposition of the tea party and its allies.

Which is all very well and good. The question is whether those results will help create a better, safer country than the one that currently exists. The answer: Probably.

Despite the hysterical (and often dishonest) work of many on the right, there’s not significant doubt among scientists about whether A) climate change is real or B) whether it’s substantially created by human action. What doubt exists mostly exists in the public’s mind – and mostly among Republicans – but that doubt has been large enough to prevent American officials from doing anything about it. Which gave this country the appearance of fiddling even as the planet burned down around it.

A better, more fact-based course of action would’ve been to acknowledge the existence of climate change – which is happening whether or not it is acknowledged – and debate the best solutions to it. Conservatives chose to obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. So President Obama and the environmentalists did the only sane thing: Used what power was lying around, waiting to be used, in order to force some large-scale changes that will mitigate this country’s contribution to climate change. They now have the Supreme Court’s seal of approval.

The solutions the EPA imposes will not be the same solutions that Republicans might’ve agreed to. That’s too bad, because Republican preferences for market-based solutions might’ve helped lighten the burden of whatever regulations are coming. The EPA can help mitigate climate change; it would be nice if it had a “loyal opposition” partner in the GOP.

Ben Boychuk (bboychuk@city-journal.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Joel Mathis (joelmmathis@gmail.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.

Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis

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