By Lisa Beyer
In their courtship of the conservative base, Republican presidential hopefuls are pushing a tough line on the Environmental Protection Agency. In the harshest version, advocated by Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, the EPA is so out of control, it ought to be shuttered.
In fact, in the area that most provokes the critics, President Barack Obama's EPA has brought a measure of order. Court-ordered order. Make that, Supreme Court-ordered order.
The main source of anger toward the EPA is its effort to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants and refineries. Following the establishment of emission standards for new cars and light trucks, new, stricter rules for power plants and refineries are scheduled to take effect in May and November of next year, respectively.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that under the Clean Air Act, which like the EPA was established during a Republican presidency (Richard Nixon's), the agency must determine whether greenhouse gases endangered public health and welfare. Once it did so, in a December 2009 finding, it was compelled to regulate emissions.
For four-plus years since the ruling, Congress has failed to act on greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009, the House narrowly passed a cap-and-trade bill, but the Senate took no action. The current Congress has gone beyond immobility; both chambers have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to block the EPA from taking up the Supreme Court mandate.
One measure, which Bachmann co-sponsored, would have repealed the EPA's endangerment finding, which concluded that the 7,150 million metric tons of greenhouse gases produced by U.S. industry, power plants and vehicles was contributing to climate change. The gases worsened, among other things, heat-related mortality and sickness, respiratory problems, the rise in sea level and the impact of storms.
In regulating greenhouse gases, the EPA is doing its job and Congress's too. The agency expects to unveil its proposed new standards for power plants in September and for refineries in December. Lawmakers and others will then have plenty of time to judge the merit of the ideas and to comment before they become official.
Certainly, emission standards will mean added costs for industry. Releasing greenhouse gases into the environment also has costs. The EPA is simply trying to make them explicit.
(Lisa Beyer is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board.)