By Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr./April 24, 2009
You might want to hold your breath while you read this. By ruling that greenhouse gases are a danger to the public, the Environmental Protection Agency gave Congress an ultimatum: enact expensive climate change legislation or suffer unduly burdensome regulation.
The EPA recently proposed that the air we breathe "threatens the public health and welfare of current and future generations." Specifically, it is concerned with carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases.
The EPA's finding relates directly to cars and does not, in itself, create new regulations. But it is impossible to overestimate the scope of the finding. Environmentally, there is no difference between the carbon emitted from cars, power plants or our own bodies, so if the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon from one source, it can regulate it from others.
The EPA has essentially claimed authority to regulate absolutely everything: from cars, to power plants, to buildings, to manufacturing, to farm animals, to people out for a jog (you would, after all, emit less carbon dioxide if you just walked).
We can debate how imminent a threat global warming actually poses until the regulated cows come home, but no illness is best treated by killing the patient. Citing authority from the Supreme Court, which as far as I know does not employ a single scientist, the EPA proposed to regulate every aspect of our economy and to insert itself in the daily life of every American.
This is a bad idea. But most galling is that the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress know it's a bad idea. That's actually the point.
Polls have shown that America's interest in climate change has slipped lower and lower as the economy has slid. Further, even with the political clout of a new president and a large Democratic majority in Congress, Democrats know that cap-and-tax (my name for the Democrat's proposed carbon trading scheme) is a tough sell to members of Congress who are hesitant to support a massive new energy tax in the midst of a recession.
What was the administration's solution? They've put a gun to our heads.
The administration hopes that it has proposed an idea so bad that it will tip the balance in Congress to support creation of a carbon trading scheme. The message is clear: "If you don't pass our proposed energy tax, we'll cripple the economy with regulation."
The context of the finding makes the tactic clear. The EPA's announcement coincides perfectly with a self-imposed deadline by congressional Democrats to move cap-and-tax legislation out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee before Memorial Day.
Just a week after the finding was announced, administration officials, including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, all testified before the committee in support of cap-and-tax legislation.
Democrats are also exposed by their own rhetoric.
Despite the finding, President Obama and his "Climate Czar," Carol Browner, have both stated that they would prefer legislation to regulation, and according to the Washington Times, Browner recently told a gathering in Boston that carbon emissions were unlikely to be capped using regulations instead of legislation.
Even Lisa Jackson argued for legislation after announcing her finding. "This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. This pollution problem has a solution — one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country's dependence on foreign oil." The solution she was proposing was congressional legislation.
In lockstep with the administration, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., exposed the tactic most directly, saying: "It is now no longer a choice between doing a bill and doing nothing. It is now a choice between regulation and legislation. The EPA will have to act if Congress does not."
Our nation's energy policies are too important for this game of chicken. The choice proposed by Democrats is a false one.
Rather than choose between oppressive regulations and economically disastrous legislation, we should clarify that Congress never intended to give EPA the authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act. Congress can then consider rational proposals to address climate change without artificial pressure.
Sensenbrenner, who represents Wisconsin's 5th congressional district (Milwaukee), is the ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
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