Sheila McNulty EPA decision: Finally, some climate action from the Obama Administration

It took potential embarrassment on a world stage to get President Barack Obama to act decisively, and he has finally done it. With the Copenhagen conference getting under way, the US Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

It was starting to look like the US was going to show up at Copenhagen with little changed since the Obama Administration took over, which would be particularly embarrassing given President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for what were deemed his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.

If he could not even get his own people to act to try to curb carbon emissions, what could the US offer the world? Finally something of substance on the topic from the US government.

Here is what the EPA had to say:

After a thorough examination of the scientific evidence and careful consideration of public comments, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced today that greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of the American people.

Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator, added:

These long-overdue findings cement 2009′s place in history as the year when the United States government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform. Business leaders, security experts, government officials, concerned citizens and the US Supreme Court have called for enduring, pragmatic solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing climate change. This continues our work towards clean energy reform that will cut green house gases and reduce the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our national security and our economy.

Of course, business was not pleased. They had hoped to lobby until they had weakened further the energy legislation Congress has been working on, taking into account every special interest except that of the people who would face global warming in the future. With the EPA now moving in to take over, industry would do well to back off with all the demands on Congress and let something reasonable pass. Their bigger fears of regulation by the EPA now look far worse than the Waxman-Markey and Boxer-Kerry proposals they spent the better part of the summer criticizing.

Here is what the industry had to say about the EPA regulating emissions under the Clean Air Act. Starting with Shell:

We believe regulation under under the Clean Air Act could have negative consequences for businesses, jobs and our economy. It will lead to project delays, years of litigation and regulatory uncertainty while businesses and agencies are waiting for the courts to rule. Instead, Shell believes a market-based cap and trade bill is the surest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest possible cost to the economy and the consumer. A cap-and-trade system will spur innovation, deploy technology and create jobs.

Hmm. It sounds like Congress might not have been on the wrong track after all. Let us hear what ExxonMobil had to say:

We believe that the Clean Air Act was not designed, nor should it be used,
to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. As you know, we support a well
designed carbon tax as the most effective, simple and transparent measure
in managing rising greenhouse gas emissions.

That has been Exxon’s call all along – for a carbon tax instead of a cap-and-trade system. But that has not been getting any traction. That does not mean it will not. The one thing the industry knows is that something is coming. ConocoPhillips summed it up this way:

The choice is no longer between climate legislation and no requirements for greenhouse gas mitigation. The endangerment finding for the US EPA is the latest step toward regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. In addition, state governments continue to advance a variety of state and regional climate change policy initiatives. If Congress fails to enact federal legislation, the patchwork approach will result in less-effective, less-efficient and costlier greenhouse gas regulation.

Well that is something the industry has known all along. Maybe next session they will be less demanding. But, by then it could be too late.