Rejecting ‘Energy’ Bills, Congress Made Policy

First, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) abandoned plans for Senate action on a major “climate bill” that would restrict the emissions of greenhouse gases. Then, this week he decided against bringing a scaled-back (but still huge) “energy bill” to the floor before the August recess.

For all the accusations about base political motives killing the bills, the reality is that grand and not-so-grand schemes to remake the U.S. economy by raising energy costs are unpopular. Policymakers proved incapable of making all political calculations and compromises needed to pass the legislation.

The Washington Post today considers what’s next in a story, “EPA left to pick up climate change where Congress dropped the debate“:

The Environmental Protection Agency will soon begin regulating greenhouse gases factory by factory, power plant by power plant. That could be unwieldy, expensive and unpopular — even President Obama has said it’s not his preferred solution.

But for now, it’s his only option.

His only option? That’s obviously not true.

The President is in charge of the Executive Branch, and the EPA is part of the Executive Branch. His many options include telling Administrator Lisa Jackson to back off and start over on greenhouse gas regulation. Or, to belatedly recognize that the Executive Branch does not make policy and to defer to the constitutional authority of Congress. The President could decide to redouble his persuading and politicking in an effort to win passage of a good “climate bill” he could sign into law.

But for now, the Administration is relying on the EPA to rewrite the law to apply greenhouse gas regulations only to larger industrial emitters — a discretion that the law, the Clean Air Act, does not allow. The regulatory approach is a disaster, imposing costs, uncertainty and unprecedented federal control over economic activity in this country.

Manufacturers, energy users, and wealth creators have won the policy debate so far. The House passed Waxman-Markey, attempting to create policy. The Senate’s rejection of that legislation is a policy decision, as well; as the Post reports, “Senators said they worried that new pollution rules would cut jobs and raise energy prices.”

Nevertheless, the Administration marches on. Faced with EPA edicts that circumvent Congress, “cut jobs and raise energy prices,” business is left with a judicial recourse.

The National Association of Manufacturers and a coalition of 17 business associations filed four law suits on July 6, challenging EPA regulations from 1978, 1980 and 2002 that are now part of the EPA’s effort to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources. No one — Congress, regulators, industry — anticipated that these previously issued rules would now be used to mandate greenhouse gas permit requirements, but that’s the EPA’s new interpretation. The NAM also filed an administrative petition for reconsideration with the EPA on the same rules. (Case summaries, links.)

The Post quotes one of the more rabid advocates of expanded federal control of economic activity, Frank O’Connell of Clean Air Watch: “Congress, particularly the Senate, has dropped the ball and kicked it out of bounds. If we’re going to see any progress on climate, it’s going to have to be the EPA…”

And if we’re going to see any progress on growth, jobs and preserving the separation of powers, it’s going to have to be judiciary.

Unless the President changes his mind. That IS an option, you know.

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