Politics & Policy

The EPA’s Blueprint for Disaster

A new regulatory regime from our environmental bureaucrats would grind the economy to a halt.

Opponents of massive new energy taxes and regulations breathed a small sigh of relief last month when the Lieberman-Warner climate-tax bill went down in flames on the Senate floor. Even 10 Democrats broke from the party line and voted against it, writing that they would have opposed the bill on final passage. Unfortunately, power-mad bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency remain undaunted.

The EPA is expected today to release a document that blueprints a dizzying array of greenhouse-gas regulatory programs under dozens of different provisions of the 1970 Clean Air Act. The document, called an “Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” will formally begin the process of implementing restrictions more draconian than those in the Lieberman-Warner bill — all without a single vote of Congress.

A 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA opened the door to this mischief, although that ruling was limited to motor-vehicle regulation. The EPA blueprint, judging by various leaked versions, goes far beyond that. At more than 200 pages, along with an appendix of more than 800 pages, it is a radical plan for reordering the entire U.S. economy.

Not only would motor vehicles be regulated in the EPA’s new rules — and to a much greater degree than they are in new regulations coming from the Department of Transportation — so would light-duty trucks, heavy-duty trucks, buses, motorcycles, planes, trains, ships, boats, tractors, mining equipment, RVs, lawn mowers, fork lifts, and just about every other piece of equipment that’s got a motor in it. The new regulations in many cases could require complete equipment redesigns and operational changes.

The EPA also hopes to regulate stationary-source emissions by instituting a cap-and-trade scheme much like the massive, multi-trillion-dollar, hidden-tax-hike scam the U.S. Senate rejected last month. If unable to do that, the EPA will deliver something even worse: old-style, command-and-control regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The worst excess here is the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program. This would require permitting for businesses and structures that emit as little as 100 tons of greenhouse gases per year. That threshold may make sense for some air pollutants. But for carbon dioxide it’s frighteningly low, and would subject millions of never-before-regulated entities to an expensive and lengthy EPA permitting process. Any building over 100,000 square feet would be pulled in, as would numerous smaller buildings that produce carbon dioxide. Small businesses, restaurants, schools, and hospitals that have commercial kitchens with gas burners would all be affected.

This permitting process would debilitate businesses across the country. It also would grind state environmental agencies and the EPA to a standstill; inundated with permit filings, they would unable to pursue many legitimate environmental protections.  Meanwhile, as the permit backlog grows, all new-construction activity across the country would draw to a halt.

The EPA blueprint includes a lengthy discussion of how to avoid these outcomes. For one, the agency suggests that it can establish its own threshold for permitting. It can’t. While Congress can design a regime with thresholds that it considers appropriate, the EPA can only stretch the 1970 Clean Air Act so far. (For the record, the act’s author, John Dingell, has stated that the act should not be forced into service to regulate greenhouse gases.) Even if the major environmental groups agree to look the other way while more reasonable rules are implemented, all it takes is one environmentalist to file a lawsuit and point out how statutory language establishes thresholds for PSD regulation. That’s when the economy stops moving.

The EPA is out of control. A radical multi-trillion-dollar reordering of our economy deserves at least the participation of democratically elected legislators and accountable branches of government. Whether or not Congress chooses to establish a regime for greenhouse-gas regulation, it must immediately pass legislation to stop the EPA from implementing its devastating vision for the U.S. economy.

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