EPA Chief: Veto Coming If Congress Tries Blocking Carbon Pollution Clean-Up

Bloomberg Businessweek ran a story last week on the actions taken by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to begin curbing the carbon pollution that drives global warming.  Jackson is acting under the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision holding that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants are “air pollutants” that can be reduced under the landmark Clean Air Act, which turns 40 years old next week. 

The Bloomberg story, and another on Reuters, explain the substantial steps EPA has taken so far:  the science-based finding that carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants are dangerous to our health and the environment, new emission standards for cars and trucks, and first steps to limit carbon pollution from new power plants and factories.  The stories also look ahead to possible new steps to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants – the biggest source of global warming pollution in the nation.

The story posted on the Businessweek website, however, leaves out a key point that was in the story distributed by Bloomberg’s wire service.  In the wire service story, Administrator Jackson spoke out against proposals in Congress to flout the science, overturn the Supreme Court’s decision, and block EPA from carrying out the law of the land.  Some in Congress are trying to block or delay EPA standards for power plants, oil refineries, or other huge carbon polluters.   They are threatening to attach funding riders to appropriations bills or a “continuing resolution” needed to keep the government going.  According to the wire service story: 

“The president and the White House have been clear that they would veto any attempt to take away authority here,” Jackson said.

Veto promises normally make news, so it is surprising that the story posted on Businessweek left this bit out.

Jackson’s comments reiterated prior White House promises to protect and use the EPA authority already on the books under the Clean Air Act.  In July, Politico reported that “President Barack Obama would veto legislation suspending the EPA's plans to write new climate change rules, a White House official said on Friday.”  And in June, the White House issued a formal veto threat against Senator Lisa Murkowski’s move to repeal EPA’s endangerment finding – which the Senate then wisely defeated.

Jackson also said this about the interplay of EPA action and new climate legislation:

 “I have always said legislation would be better,” Jackson, 48, said in an interview. “There is only so much this agency can do under the Clean Air Act.  That being said, you can get started, and we need to get started.” 

President Obama pledged last May to use the tools already on the books to start cutting the pollution that drives global warming:  “I’m going to take every sensible, responsible action that I can use -- that I can take using my authority as President to move our country in the right direction.  That’s what we’ve done today.  That’s what we’re going to continue to do in the days, weeks and months ahead.” 

With Congress stalemated on new climate and energy legislation, it’s all the more important that the Obama administration use the tools it has now under the Clean Air Act.  With these tools, the EPA can take a big bite out of the pollution that is driving global warming.   Eventually we need a new law to do the whole job, but we can and must get started with the tools we already have.

Here is the Bloomberg wire story in full, reproduced here because it isn’t currently posted on the web:

Lisa Jackson Walks ‘Knife’s Edge’ on EPA’s Carbon Controls
2010-09-02 16:27:16.269 GMT
By Kim Chipman
     Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Early in his presidency, Barack Obama made it clear that if Congress failed to limit carbon emissions, he would use his authority under the Clean Air Act to
control greenhouse gases. Now that Congress has pulled the plug on legislation, that task has fallen to Lisa Jackson, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency chief.
      Caught between business groups, Republicans and even some Senate Democrats who want to stop her, and environmental organizations that say she’s not going far enough, Jackson may
have one of the toughest jobs in Washington, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Sept. 6 edition.
       Even Jackson agrees that regulation is inferior to legislation.
      “I have always said legislation would be better,” Jackson, 48, said in an interview. “There is only so much this agency can do under the Clean Air Act. That being said, you can get started, and we need to get started.”
      It took a 2007 Supreme Court ruling to clarify that the 1970 law gave the agency the power to regulate carbon at all. One of Jackson’s first moves as EPA administrator was to take up the court’s invitation and declare carbon an environmental threat. Within weeks, she followed that with rules requiring automakers to boost fuel economy 5 percent a year and average
35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.
      Those rules, effective Jan. 2, will mark the U.S.’s first nationwide limits on greenhouse-gas pollution in the effort to curb global warming. Having taken that step, Jackson by law must clamp down on other carbon sources.
       Cleaners, Pizza Shops
      In an economic downturn, Jackson has said she hopes to avoid writing detailed diktats for small businesses, schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings, many of which emit enough carbon that broad-based rules could force them to install expensive equipment. That could be politically explosive in a midterm election year, letting Republicans say that Obama is strangling the economy.
      Instead, Jackson has moved cautiously by offering what she calls a “tailored” approach that exempts mom-and-pop dry cleaners and pizza parlors and initially regulates only power plants and oil refineries. Among those, only new or expanding plants need comply.
      Even so, business groups, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are taking Jackson to court saying she has no authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Keith McCoy, vice-president for energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, calls the greenhouse-gas rules “one of the greatest bureaucratic power grabs in the history of the United States.”
      All or Nothing
      Some industry groups are arguing that Jackson’s not going far enough. It’s all or nothing, they say, knowing that all-out regulation would be untenable.
      If the EPA wishes to regulate carbon, “then it ought to have to regulate facilities large and small and suffer all the consequences, warts and all,” said Scott Segal, a Washington lawyer at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP who lobbies for coal-fired utilities Southern Co. and Duke Energy Corp., among others.
      Lobbyists such as Segal are on guard for Jackson’s next move in coming months, when the EPA will issue guidance to refiners and power plants on the “best available control technology” to limit the largest amount of emissions, taking into account cost and availability. If the guidance is severe, it could delay new construction and expansion by manufacturers -- and harm job creation, Segal said.
      Two-Year Delay
      Some Democrats from coal-producing states want to stop or postpone the EPA’s efforts. Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, has readied a measure that would delay any rule for two years. To succeed, he would need 18 other Democrats to join 41 Republicans, which isn’t impossible, considering that half the states mine coal or burn it for most of their electricity.
      “The president and the White House have been clear that they would veto any attempt to take away authority here,” Jackson said.
      An environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, sued the EPA in early August, claiming the tailored regulations leave out too many large polluters. Republican Governor Rick Perry of Texas has filed a lawsuit against the agency for singling out refineries and power plants.
      “It’s a knife’s edge the EPA is walking right now,” said Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University’s Environmental Economics Program in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He calls the EPA approach “inappropriate and unfortunate” if it ends up playing “into the hands of the far right and others who don’t want any action on climate change.”
      Jackson, the agency’s first black administrator, has made a priority of “environmental justice,” the effort to ensure that poor and minority groups don’t bear the brunt of  environmental risks such as waste dumps.
       Chemical Engineer
       Born in Pennsylvania, Jackson grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the daughter of a mailman and a secretary who also worked as a substitute teacher. She was a high-school valedictorian and graduated with honors from Tulane University.  She earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in New Jersey before starting her career at the EPA, working in Washington and New York. 

    After 16 years at the EPA, Jackson joined New Jersey’s environmental protection department, where she helped push for cuts in greenhouse gases. From 2006 to 2008, she was head of the agency under Democratic Governor Jon Corzine.
      In a prelude to the dispute she faces today, Jackson was criticized by business groups for policies they found too aggressive, and by environmentalists who didn’t think she was going far enough. “She found a good balance,” said Corzine, for whom she also served as chief of staff.
      Inhofe’s Praise
      Even Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican and a leading skeptic of man-made global warming, likes Jackson’s style.
      “She’s established her integrity and openness to Democrats and Republicans,” said Inhofe, the senior Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Inhofe was so impressed after meeting Jackson that he gave her a holiday card with a photo of his family, which now sits, framed, on her office shelf.
      “I’m a firm believer in the value of talking to people, of working together no matter what the politics,” Jackson said. 

     While Representative John Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, has called attempts to regulate carbon through existing law a “glorious mess,” Jackson is forging ahead.
      “The regulations we put in place will be a start and I’m committed to them being a good start,” Jackson said. “Part of my belief is that there is absolutely no reason for the economy and the environment to be at opposite ends of a spectrum.”