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David Doniger’s Blog

The Phony “Train Wreck”

David Doniger

Posted April 18, 2008 in Solving Global Warming

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President Bush’s advisors claimed this week that using the Clean Air Act and other existing laws to fight global warming will cause “a regulatory train wreck.”  The only “train wreck” we’ll have is if the president’s own engineers and switchmen get away with deliberately derailing the nation’s clean air laws. 

One year ago, the Supreme Court rebuffed the president’s legal strategy for doing nothing on global warming.  The High Court rejected the Environmental Protection Agency’s claim that it had no authority to curb the pollution that causes global warming.  Instead, the Court ruled that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases are “air pollutants” and that EPA has the authority to regulate them under the Clean Air Act. 

Last spring, President Bush said he accepted the Supreme Court's decision.  He called it “the new law of the land” and he ordered his EPA to implement it.  And for a while it looked like the EPA actually would be allowed to act – until the kibosh came down.

Now the president is back to condemning the courts for “stretch[ing]” these laws “beyond their original intent.”  And he made it clear that – notwithstanding his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the nation’s laws – he has no intention to comply with the Supreme Court’s landmark clean air decision.   

What about the president’s claim that the Clean Air Act wasn’t designed to deal with protecting the climate?  Well, the truth is that Congress actually debated global warming way back when it passed the Clean Air Act in 1970.  And based on the science available back then, Congress specifically wrote it into the law not only that EPA must curb pollution that threatens our health, but also pollution that affects the “climate” and the “weather.”  History was not the president’s best subject.

What about the president’s claim that using the Clean Air Act could “have crippling effects on our entire economy”?  The truth is that using the Clean Air Act is a perfectly practical way to reduce global warming pollution from our cars, power plants, and big factories.  As I testified to a House committee last week, the law calls upon EPA to set standards for using available technology and for considering costs, lead-time needs, safety, and energy considerations.   

Nothing fancy.  No economic ruin.  Just do what’s technically feasible taking into account costs.  Do that and you’ve taken a big bite out of 80 percent of America’s global warming pollution. 

What about the president’s claim that he’d have to regulate everything “from schools and stores to hospitals and apartment buildings”?  Would you be surprised to learn that no one is asking EPA to do this?  In fact, EPA has already figured out ways it could avoid sweeping in small sources of CO2.   

Normally the president doesn’t feel too constrained by mere laws.  His Justice Department works overtime finding him “inherent powers” to do whatever he pleases.  But here it suits him to pretend his hands are tied.  Why, because he has no other excuses left for not curbing the carbon pollution from the big boys – the power plants, factories, and car companies – except to hide behind schools and hospitals.

Do we need a new law to comprehensively control global warming pollution?  Sure.  But there’s a lot the president could do to get started under the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws – if he wanted to do anything.   

But for more than seven years, this president has done nothing except try to close the door on the Clean Air Act and other existing laws.  All while opposing every new proposal to cap carbon pollution that is advanced in the Congress. 

And now he’s announced that after eight years of letting global warming emissions grow, he wants to let them keep growing for 17 more years, ‘til 2025.  

Some people say, just wait for the next president.  But global warming won’t wait.

That’s why NRDC, together with states and other environmental groups, has gone back to court for an order to enforce the Supreme Court’s decision and force action under the Clean Air Act.   

And that’s why we’re working to pass the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, which is coming up for a vote on the Senate floor later this spring. 

This president has created his own train wreck.  And we’ll still be cleaning up the mess long after he’s gone.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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