The Washington Post

A debate better than polar bears

Well, so much for my powers of political prediction. Just yesterday, I said I doubted the climate crisis would play a role in this year's election, and wham, the Environmental Protection Agency is set to announce that it will set the first ever limitations on carbon emissions from power plants.

Republicans and coal-state Democrats will howl. Mitt Romney et al will fit this neatly into their narrative of a regulation-wielding, job-killing, energy-price-raising president.

Indeed, the Obama administration's decision is rather brave, given the timing. The EPA has long used its authority to regulate emissions like mercury that have a clear impact on public health. But the clear, odorless gas that is carbon dioxide has never been regulated. While there is broad consensus that CO2 causes global warming and that it is already causing higher sea levels, droughts, other extreme weather events and their attendant economic and human deprivations, Congress tried and failed to control carbon emissions through legislation. Now, in an unprecedented move, carbon will be regulated by a federal agency.

While the Republican attack line on this will be swift and certain, it will be more interesting to see how Democrats respond. Will they defend the decision by saying that the regulations are more gradual than depicted, allow certain exemptions and promote clean-coal technologies, or will they go on the offensive and say it is essential that this country transitions as soon as possible from dirty, climate-killing energy sources like high CO2 coal.

Now that could be a good debate, even better than polar bears.

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