Using the Clean Air Act to Regulate Climate -- Lisa Jackson Speaks

To hear William L. Kovacs talk, a mighty regulatory hammer is about to come down from the Obama Administration to smite the American economy. The threat he (as the vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and many in the business community see is the Clean Air Act, which normally regulates things like ozone and soot in the air. But in the wake of a landmark 2007 Supreme Court ruling, the Clean Air Act also gives the Environmental Protection Agency the legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases that cause global warming. If that happens, watch out, warns Kovacs: “It’s not just the large manufacturers that would bear the burden of regulation this time. It’s the little guys: the hotel you stayed at this weekend, the bakery where you bought your donuts, the office building you work in, even the church you take your family to on Sunday.”

Yes, the new Obama Administration is already talking about using its authority to regulate greenhouse gases (in part to put pressure on Congress to act on legislation). But the idea that the EPA is about to come down on businesses across America is just preposterous, new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said on Feb. 23 at a kick-off meeting for a new climate center at Georgetown Law School. “It’s just not true,” she said. She even chuckled at the dire predictions from opponents of such regulation. “Depending on who’s painting the picture, [we are told] EPA will regulate cows, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Hut, your lawnmower and baby bottles,” she said. “I haven’t figured out why baby bottles yet, but…just throw it in there. Somebody said to me today, ‘kittens’—I like that one.”

But obviously, she said, “it is a myth.” Yes, she added, “EPA does have regulatory might. It is at its heart a regulatory agency. But it also will quickly become irrelevant if it is not shown to be listening… and to be a place where we can find the balance that makes good public policy, that addresses first and foremost the issue of climate change – we can’t lose that – but also addresses people’s real fear about what this will cost them every day in their electric bill or whether it will cost them in jobs or competitiveness.”

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