Monday, April 20, 2009

Carbon Insanity

The EPA has finally issued its proposed endangerment finding on greenhouse gases:

The Administrator signed a proposal with two distinct findings regarding greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act:

  • The Administrator is proposing to find that the current and projected concentrations of the mix of six key greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)—in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations. This is referred to as the endangerment finding.
  • The Administrator is further proposing to find that the combined emissions of CO2, CH4, N2O, and HFCs from new motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines contribute to the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases and hence to the threat of climate change. This is referred to as the cause or contribute finding.

Today’s proposed action, as well as any final action in the future, would not itself impose any requirements on industry or other entities. An endangerment finding under one provision of the Clean Air Act would not by itself automatically trigger regulation under the entire Act.

Of course not! But it certainly sets the stage for Congressional, administrative, and judicial mischief. Over at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, there's a letter from the Free Market Coalition to the EPA Administrator outlining some of the likely consequences:
That the endangerment finding will trigger a regulatory cascade threatening the economy is abundantly documented in EPA’s July 2008 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) and numerous comments on it. The endangerment finding will compel EPA to establish GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles under CAA §202, which in turn will make carbon dioxide (CO2) a pollutant “subject to regulation” under the Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) pre-construction permitting program. In addition, the finding will be precedential for the endangerment test that initiates a National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) rulemaking.

No small business could operate under the PSD administrative burden, even apart from any technology investments the firm might have to make to qualify for a permit. An estimated 1.2 million previously unregulated entities (office buildings, big box stores, enclosed malls, hotels, apartment buildings, even commercial kitchens) would become “major stationary sources” for PSD purposes. All would be vulnerable to new regulation, monitoring, paperwork, penalties, and litigation, the moment they undertake to build new facilities or modify existing ones. The flood of PSD permit applications would overwhelm EPA and State agency administrative resources, subjecting “major” sources to additional costs, delays, and uncertainties. A more potent Anti-Stimulus package would be difficult to imagine.

Since EPA plans to find endangerment on both health and welfare grounds, the Agency could be compelled to establish “primary” (health-based) NAAQS for GHGs. Logically, the standard would be set below current atmospheric levels. Even very stringent emission limitations applied worldwide over a century would likely be insufficient to lower GHG concentrations. Yet the CAA requires EPA to ensure attainment of primary NAAQS within five or at most 10 years—and it forbids EPA to take costs into account. Regulate CO2 under the NAAQS program and there is, in principle, no economic hardship that could not be imposed on the American people. (Emphasis added.)

The Washington Post, in an editorial, says it prefers Congressional action over piecemeal regulations:
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), then-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, predicted last year that seeking to control climate change with such piecemeal regulation would lead to a "glorious mess."

The best way to stop this from happening is for Congress to adopt a more rational scheme, by putting a price on carbon with a tax (ideally) or a cap-and-trade market. Next week, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the current chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, will hold hearings on the discussion draft of comprehensive energy legislation that he and Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the energy and environment subcommittee, released before the Easter recess. While the proposal details many ambitious programs for renewable energy and efficiency, it is noticeably mute on the contours of a cap-and-trade system. Specifically, it doesn't say whether the pollution allowances would be auctioned or a portion given away to industry to ease the transition to a carbon-constrained economy. This is an important question, one whose answer will have a profound impact on the way Americans live -- one of many basic issues that should be settled by their representatives in Congress.

But the WAPO makes it sound as if regulating carbon by Congress is better than regulating carbon by the EPA. Why should carbon dioxide and the other 5 "greenhouse gases" be regulated more than they are now anyway?

I'll grant that human activity is the cause of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), because that's what "anthropogenic" means. However, is AGW a major driver of climate change?
Lots of questions that the political class in Washington doesn't seem interested in having answered. Meanwhile, check out the many ways CO2 benefits our lives. Beer anyone?