Last week, President Obama gave a big — and disappointing — speech on energy, leaving almost any mention of climate change out of a plan that doesn’t make much sense without climate change. This week, Washington speculated that the president would give up one of the only tools he has left to fight carbon emissions — Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gases — as part of his dealing with House Republicans over the budget. This had the ring of believability because Obama rarely mentions his EPA’s carbon-slashing efforts. Some environmentalists worried: Can’t the president even talk about global warming?

Here’s a more promising sign. The White House late Tuesday released a policy paper on a standalone Republican bill that would stop those EPA regulations, and it is among the most straightforward statements on major environmental policy the White House has offered in months.

The statement argues that, despite some costs, EPA’s decades of work under the Clean Air Act have reduced pollution — its regulation has saved or made healthier millions of lives. It points out that EPA crackdowns on the sources of greenhouse emissions — such as coal plants — also decrease other nasty effluences that pollute the air around them. Most importantly, it repeatedly mentions climate change — the threat that really makes green energy make sense. The White House couldn’t help throwing in a few lines about gasoline costs, but, thankfully, those aren’t the focus of the statement.

EPA regulation isn’t perfect. But it’s worth upholding, and on its own terms, especially while Congress does little about climate change and other environmental problems. Imagine that — defending environmental policy for the sake of the environment.

Update, 9:30 a.m.: I should note, however, that the White House hasn’t said that it will refuse “compromise” proposals to attenuate EPA’s regulatory power, despite its heartening defense of the agency on Tuesday. Don’t expect to hear much about climate change when it decides not to veto one of those.