Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia unanimously upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to public health and the environment. Although not a surprising decision, the ruling is a disappointing one. Unless Congress prohibits the EPA’s regulatory assault on fossil fuels, Americans will suffer from dramatically higher energy costs and a slower economy—all for no noticeable change in the Earth’s temperature.
In 1999, several groups of environmental activists sued the EPA to force the agency to regulate carbon dioxide from motor vehicles. Eventually the case made it to the Supreme Court; in April 2007, the Court ruled that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are pollutants and can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The Court ordered the EPA Administrator to determine whether these CO2 emissions were dangerous to human health and the environment and whether the scientific consensus on the effects of GHGs was settled.
In 2009, the EPA issued its decision, known as an endangerment finding, determining that carbon dioxide (a colorless, odorless, non-toxic gas) is a pollutant—not because it has any direct human health impact, but because—according to some—it can lead to sea level rises, stressed water resources, increased size and quantity of wildfires, and other effects linked to global warming.
Since the EPA has long ignored the disagreement among the scientific community regarding the EPA’s classification of CO2 as a pollutant as well as the magnitude of man-made warming, industry groups contested that the courts should reverse the EPA’s ruling on the grounds that it was arbitrary and capricious. When it comes to why climate change is occurring and how fast, the real scientific consensus is that there is no consensus. Despite a lack of scientific consensus, the challenge faced an uphill battle, because the courts are very deferential to agency fact-finding. The Supreme Court is unlikely to take up the case.
We need a permanent fix to prevent unelected bureaucrats from regulating CO2 and from implementing major policy changes that have not been passed by Congress. The EPA is unnecessarily meddling with America’s energy markets and allowing the federal government to manage our economy.
Regulating carbon dioxide will significantly increase energy prices and insignificantly reduce global temperatures. Since an overwhelming majority of our energy needs are met by fossil fuels, these rules directly raise the cost of electricity, gasoline, diesel fuel, and home heating oil.
But the pain doesn’t stop there. Businesses, faced with higher energy costs, will pass those costs on to consumers. However, if a company has to absorb the costs, high energy costs squeeze profit margins and prevent businesses from investing and expanding.
The EPA’s regulations will not reduce CO2 enough to have any meaningful effect. Attempting to reduce CO2 unilaterally will have an insignificant impact on overall global emissions. China and India’s CO2 emissions are rapidly increasing as they continue to expand their respective economies, and they have no intention of scaling back economic growth to curb emissions. Even if the EPA were to reduce U.S. carbon emissions 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 (what cap-and-trade bills called for), it would constitute a negligible portion of worldwide emissions and do nothing to impact global temperatures.
The most effective approach to such harmful, bureaucratic regulatory undertakings would be to permanently prohibit any federal regulators from using greenhouse gas emissions as a reason to slow or prevent economic activity. A comprehensive approach would prevent the EPA and other federal regulators such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from using any environmental act to impose regulations based on climate findings, including the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Congress must stop the implementation of this drastic energy tax.
Nicolas Loris is a Policy Analyst at The Heritage Foundation . http://www.heritage.org/ Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. Loris researches and writes about energy, environment and regulation issues such as the economic impacts of climate change legislation, a free market approach to nuclear energy and the effects of environmental policy on energy prices and the economy.