The EPA takes an entirely different tack when the issue is not whether to grant regulatory relief but whether to impose additional regulatory burdens. In such cases, even small contributions to an alleged harm are considered sufficient grounds for regulation, and even minute regulatory contributions to the hoped-for solution are deemed fully justified.
Consider the EPA’s greenhouse-gas emission standards for heavy-duty trucks, which will go into effect for model-year 2014–2018 vehicles. The EPA estimates that these standards will reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations by 0.732 parts per million, which in turn will avert an estimated 0.002 to 0.004 degrees Celsius of global warming and 0.012 to 0.048 centimeters of sea-level rise by the year 2100. Such changes would be too small for scientists to distinguish from noise in the climate data. The EPA acknowledges no obligation to demonstrate either that heavy-truck GHG emissions alone harm public health and welfare or that regulating these trucks would take verifiable bites out of global temperatures and sea-level rise.
For sheer results-be-damned regulation, however, nothing beats the EPA’s proposed CO2 emission standards for fossil-fuel power plants. The EPA does “not anticipate any notable CO2 emissions changes resulting from” the standards and, thus, concludes that “there are no direct monetized climate benefits in terms of CO2 emission reductions associated with this rulemaking.” In short, the standards would not even make a negligible contribution to a solution — yet the EPA proposes them anyway.
Such glaring inconsistency is a reminder (if any is needed) that agencies are not impartial umpires but interested parties in the rules they administer.
This cloud may yet have a silver lining. Jackson’s rejection of the waiver petitions exposes the RFS program as an arbitrary, inflexible system that provides corporate welfare to corn farmers at the expense of livestock producers, consumers, and hungry people in developing countries. The EPA’s decision may very well build support for RFS reform — or repeal.
— Marlo Lewis is a senior fellow in energy and environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.