This afternoon the Environmental Protection Agency will release the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking information with which to develop (or not) regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA media advisory is here. The EPA’s action comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA (opinion here), which held that the federal government had the authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, or at least had to explain why it chose not to.
Here’s a good reason not to: Regulation of carbon dioxide will radically expand the power of the federal government over the economy and, in fact, over all human activity that involves the atmosphere. (It’s a lot.) That kind of fundamental decision about the nature of the American economy and polity is a political one that demands a balancing of interests and the approval of the public as expressed in elections.
But, as we’ve seen from the spectacular failure of Lieberman-Warner climate change legislation, there is no political will or public agreement about what to do about global warming (which appears to be taking a vacation this decade).
You can see what the elite opinionmakers want by reading today’s front page story in the Washington Post, “EPA Won’t Act on Emissions This Year.” The implicit thesis is that the Bush Administration is on the wrong side by disagreeing with the enlightened views of mid-level, non-elected civil servants in the EPA (some of them are scientists!), or at least the ones who are talking to Post reporters off the record. Regulatory activity is by definition good; political oversight is by definition bad.
Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute provided a good analysis of what happens when you put that world view into effect. In “EPA Must Be Licking Its Chops,” Lewis looks at the consequences of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), the 2007 legislation that included fuel-efficiency requirements for vehicles; the draft Advance Notice cites the law for the purposes of discussing the possible federal regulation of tailpipe emissions.
If EISA is just a baby step towards the auto emission reductions EPA will require, then Detroit is in for a rough ride. Even the fuel-economy zealots at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration caution [see p. III-3 of this report] that, as fuel economy standards increase, “the incremental benefits [in fuel savings at the pump] are approximately constant while the incremental costs [to the manufacturer] increase rapidly.” Consequently, “as stringency is increased, costs rise out of proportion to the benefits or the fuel savings. Increasingly higher costs have a negative impact on sales and employment.”
But be not afraid, because EPA’s regs will increase the number of “green jobs” — at EPA. Even if the eventual rule is limited just to the transport sector (very unlikely, given the Clean Air Act’s multiple interconnections), EPA will be Technology-Forcing Central for decades to come. College grads looking for job security should send their resumes to Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air & Radiation, Climate and Transportation Division. Unfortunately, there won’t be enough jobs to go around for all the autoworkers displaced by far more stringent standards on a less profitable class of automobiles.
Advocates who demand federal regulation of carbon dioxide are proposing just this kind of new society, one where the EPA runs much of our economy. But that’s not a decision that should be made by career civil servants, no matter how well-meaning or enlightened or useful as sources to Washington Post reporters. That’s a decision the people must make through their representative democracy.