Wall Street Journal Outfoxed

Grrr... You can almost hear the teeth grinding in the editorial board room of the Wall Street Journal.  That pesky EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has outfoxed us again! 

In an editorial called "Terms of 'Endangerment'" (hey, that was the title of my blog last April), the Journal inveighs once more against any action to stop global warming. 

The Journal editors have had their knickers in a twist ever since the Supreme Court rebuffed the Bush administration and ruled that the pollutants that cause global warming can be curbed under the Clean Air Act.  Carbon dioxide an air pollutant?  Impossible!  EPA regulations?  An outrage!  

Maybe just a hypothetical outrage during the foot-dragging final years of the last administration.  But what really got the Journal editors seeing red (so to speak) was the Obama team's odd commitment to follow the science and obey the law of the land. 

President Obama wants Congress to pass new energy and climate legislation to put America on a path to clean energy future, cut the pollution that drives global warming, create jobs and rebuild our economy, and improve our energy security.   

At the same time, the president and his administration are moving deliberately to use the laws we already have to cut heat-trapping pollutants, improve energy efficiency, and promote clean technologies.  

So now the EPA is taking the long-overdue first steps towards using the Clean Air Act.  Administrator Jackson has proposed to make the not very astounding scientific finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases "endanger" our health and environment.  Under the clean car peace treaty reached in May, the EPA is preparing emission standards for new cars.  And next up will be standards for power plants and other big industries. 

All the WSJ editors can see is economic ruin.  As their "proof," they've latched onto this clever argument from the whiz kids at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:  If EPA uses the Clean Air Act to curb carbon dioxide from new cars, giant power plants, or other big factories, then the government's boot will inevitably fall on every new donut shop and hot dog stand in the land. 

Those are the same geniuses who called last month for a monkey trial on global warming.

To hear it from the Journal editors and the Chamber, EPA will not be able to stop with cars and power plants.  It will have no choice but to require every new small business that emits more than 250 tons per year of CO2 to get a permit demonstrating use of the "best available technology" (BACT).  And if the administrator doesn't do it, some darned environmental extremist will take her to court and force her to. 

But here's where the outfoxing comes in.  Administrator Jackson is about to propose a rule - called the "tailoring" rule - to limit the permitting and BACT requirements to really big sources - the power plants and big factories that have had to meet these same requirements for other pollutants for decades.  The new EPA rule reportedly will set the threshold for permitting and BACT at 25,000 tons of CO2 per year.   

Arrrgh!  She doesn't want to cover pizza parlors, nursing homes, and apartment buildings!   

And who is going to take her to court?  Damned if I know.  NRDC and other environmental groups support this new regulation.  Why?  Because we want EPA to focus on the big stuff.  Some 85 percent of U.S. global warming pollution is covered if you focus on some 13,000 power plants and big factories, as well as our cars and trucks. 

So the WSJ editors are left spluttering because the EPA intends to focus on the big sources that account for most of our carbon pollution and that can reduce it economically, becoming cleaner, more efficient, and more productive over the long haul. 

The president has got it just right:  "The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy.  The choice we face is between prosperity and decline."  

About the Authors

David Doniger

Director, Climate & Clean Air program

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