Stealing A March On The EPA

The Bush administration and the state of California are butting heads over whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant. This is no semantic game. It goes to the heart of whether the U.S. is ready to get serious about global warming. The Environmental Protection Agency argues that carbon dioxide is not an air pollutant, so the agency has no authority to regulate emissions of it under the Clean Air Act. Detroit, not surprisingly, agrees. One auto-industry lobbyist said last year: "Why would you regulate a pollutant that is an inert gas that is vital to plant photosynthesis and that people exhale when they breathe?"

Sure, people exhale a little CO2. So what? A crushing preponderance of scientific evidence shows that temperatures have risen sharply in recent decades, and an increase of greenhouse gases -- mainly carbon dioxide -- is at least partially responsible. Unchecked global warming could cause sea levels to rise and inundate coastal cities, damage agriculture in equatorial nations, and increase the frequency of severe storms and floods.

California gets it. On July 7, its Air Resources Board will begin a final draft of rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from cars by 30% before 2015. Ordinarily it's not a good idea for individual states to meddle with how cars are designed. But the Bush Administration courted this potential jurisdictional snafu last August when the EPA, reversing an earlier determination, decided that it couldn't regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. It's hard to see why a key factor in global warming isn't a pollutant. Instead of fighting in the courts, the White House should take a cue from California and make global warming a high priority.

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