Explaining the climate change strategy

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Global warming is bad for public health — that’s the essence of a formal “finding” that the Environmental Protection Agency is set to make later this week. Some view the move as long overdue; others think it overreaches. But what it is, most clearly, is just one step in an elaborate dance being performed by the Obama administration and congressional leaders, who are united in their aim to force action on climate change.

The “endangerment finding” is expected to come as the congressional recess draws to a close and the House Energy and Commerce Committee prepares for hearings next week on draft legislation to control fossil fuel emissions.

The Supreme Court paved the way for the EPA’s actions in 2007, when it ruled that carbon dioxide was a pollutant, and that the nation’s longstanding clean air laws require the agency to take action if it found public health and welfare were at risk. Once the finding is made, the EPA will then collect public comments with an eye to writing regulations on controlling carbon dioxide.

Industries of all sorts recoil from the thought of the EPA regulating carbon dioxide — an approach that is likely to be costly, burdensome, and complex. How fortuitous — or perhaps not — that help is on the way in the form of draft climate legislation authored by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and his climate subcommittee chairman, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass. Page 490 of their bill features two brief sentences that would take away EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The emissions would already be controlled in the elaborate market-based cap-and trade program that is basis of the other 644 pages of the Waxman-Markey draft bill.

“Waxman’s saying ‘Look, it’s pretty bad out there, EPA’s coming to get you, maybe you want to hang out here,’” said longtime energy analyst Kevin Book, a managing director of ClearView Energy Partners. “It’s hot out there in the desert, but I’ve got some water — now it’s going to cost you — but I’ve got some water.

“The entire bill is the same sort of genius,” says Book, “turning your perceived adversarial role to the industries you want to regulate into their defender against the EPA.”

He thinks it not coincidental either, that the typical 60-to-90-day comment period would mean that EPA would be due to release an advance notice of proposed rulemaking by the end of summer when another congressional recess would be drawing to a close. After that, a second comment period would have EPA on track to issue a proposed rule just before the international negotiations set for December in Copenhagen to draft a successor to the Kyoto treaty on global warming. Congressional leaders would like a bill by then.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will have a tough haul putting together the votes. But Waxman and Markey have the carrots, and the EPA is about to hand him a stick.

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