Mr. Bush's Train Wreck

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Monday, April 21, 2008

LAST WEEK, President Bush announced a climate change goal that is insufficiently ambitious, and he failed to endorse any mechanism to make even that goal come true. But he had a point when he warned against using laws, such as the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act, to address global warming. Citing the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency could regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, the president said, "This would automatically trigger regulation . . . all across our economy -- leading to what [House] Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell [D-Mich.] . . . called 'a glorious mess.' "

If the EPA classifies carbon dioxide from tailpipes as a pollutant that threatens public health or welfare, then the agency will have to regulate greenhouse gases from all other sources as well. Think residential and commercial buildings, which are larger sources of global warming pollution than are motor vehicles. This could knock various economic sectors for a loop and become a "regulatory train wreck," as White House press secretary Dana Perino aptly described it, that could stay mired in the courts for years.

So a legislative solution aimed at climate change would be far preferable to adapting laws that were enacted for very different purposes. But this is a train wreck of the Bush administration's making. Rather than working with Congress on legislation that would put a cap or price on carbon to reduce the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, the White House questioned the science underpinning climate change warnings and stood in the way of legislation. This led environmentalists, governors and others to look for roundabout ways to cajole the White House into action. Hence the push to list the polar bear as an endangered species because global warming is melting its Arctic Sea ice habitat and the move by California and 17 other states to regulate vehicle tailpipe emissions.

During his Rose Garden speech, Mr. Bush railed against decisions being made by "unelected regulators and judges." He offered no plan of his own while issuing veiled opposition to cap-and-trade legislation being hammered out on Capitol Hill. No matter. Such a bill is coming. One sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) that would cut greenhouse gas emissions 65 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 is scheduled to be debated in June. Even Mr. Dingell said at his April 10 hearing that cap-and-trade should be "the cornerstone" of a climate change program. And a new president who will be serious about meeting the challenges of global warming is just nine months from assuming office. Given all that, Mr. Bush is but a bystander.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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