EPA announces regulations to control greenhouse gases

President Barack Obama signs an executive order dealing with climate change. To his right are EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement Monday that it is going to regulate emissions that cause global warming has been expected ever since President Barack Obama took office.

The timing of the announcement sends a welcome signal at a crucial time. It comes as international momentum is building for the United States to take climate change seriously, and lead to cut carbon emissions.

The EPA decision should bolster U.S. standing at the international climate change summit in Copenhagen, since other nations have justifiably accused one of the world’s top two greenhouse-gas producers of dragging its feet on reducing its carbon footprint. (China is the other big polluter.)

It also will stir up a hornet’s nest domestically, as industries facing new regulations gear up to challenge them in court. And it will reverberate on Capitol Hill, just as the administration intends. The House has passed legislation that would cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and about 80 percent by 2050 through a cap-and-trade program. A similar bill is languishing in the Senate, where it faces opposition from most Republicans and some Democrats.

The Obama White House is giving the Senate a big nudge with the EPA announcement, and is counting on business groups to pressure senators to act because industries, having by and large accepted some form of climate change regulation is coming, prefer working with Congress to craft legislation that gives them more flexibility. Business groups claim if the EPA writes the regulations according to the Clean Air Act they will be too rigid and too expensive.

None of this is going to happen quickly. The EPA rules-making process takes time. Big emitters don’t have to face the inevitable just yet.

On greenhouse-gas emissions from trucks, SUVs and automobiles, the Obama administration wants to set emission standards, which would be a first, and raise fuel economy standards for vehicles to 35 miles per gallon by 2016 to reduce carbon. It should proceed with both.

Ideally, it would be better to have Congress approve the cap-and-trade bill on industrial polluters in the first half of 2010. The United States needs to assert itself as a leader in the effort to combat global warming. Nowhere is that more obvious than Florida, where a gradual rise in sea level would drastically affect the state’s economy along with its coastline.

The EPA’s significant move should propel the United States toward tackling the very real threat of global warming.


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