The EPA Permitorium
The agency’s regulatory onslaught has stopped new power generation.
President Obama is now retrenching after his midterm rebuke, and one of the main ways he’ll try to press his agenda is through the alphabet soup of the federal regulators. So a special oversight priority for the new Congress ought to be the Environmental Protection Agency, which has turned a regulatory firehose on U.S. business and the power industry in particular.
The scale of the EPA’s current assault is unprecedented, yet it has received almost no public scrutiny. Since Mr. Obama took office, the agency has proposed or finalized 29 major regulations and 172 major policy rules. This surge already outpaces the Clinton Administration’s entire first term—when the EPA had just been handed broad new powers under the 1990 revamp of air pollution laws.
Another measure of the EPA’s aggressiveness are the six major traditional pollutants that the agency polices, such as ozone or sulfur dioxide. No Administration has ever updated more than two of these rules in a single term, and each individual rule has tended to run through a 15-year cycle on average since the Clean Air Act passed in 1970. Under administrator Lisa Jackson, the EPA is stiffening the regulations for all six at the same time.
The hyperactive Ms. Jackson is also stretching legal limits to satisfy the White House’s climate-change goals, now that Senate Democrats have killed cap and trade. The EPA’s “endangerment finding” on carbon is most controversial, but other parts of her regulatory ambush may be more destructive by forcing mass retirements of the coal plants that provide half of America’s electricity.
A case study in the Jackson method is the EPA’s recent tightening of air-quality standards for sulfur dioxide. The draft SO2 rule was released for the formal period of public comment last December. Yet the final rule published in June suddenly included a “preamble” that rewrote 40-odd years of settled EPA policy.