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The EPA, The Fate of the Planet, and the Neoconfederate Judiciary

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A very useful primer from Jon Cohn on the forthcoming war over crucial new EPA regulations of carbon emissions. A particularly key point, addressing the specious claim that Obama is defying Congress:

Actually, the opposite is true. The Clean Air Act of 1970, first signed into law by Richard Nixon and then amended twice, requires the EPA to regulate pollution that threatens public health and welfare. As the Supreme Court affirmed in a landmark 2007 ruling, it’s basically up to the EPA to decide what kinds of pollution meet that standard.

In 2008, Stephen Johnson, who was then the EPA Administrator, formally told President Bush that the federal government is “compelled to act” on climate change. Bush ignored the recommendation. One year later, Lisa Jackson, Johnson’s successor, issued an official “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases were trapping heat inside the earth’s atmosphere and causing temperatures to rise. Among the dangerous consequences of this warming, the EPA warned, were higher rates of disease, stronger and more frequent extreme hurricanes, increasing wildfires and droughts, as well as rising sea levels that could literally wash low-lying coastal cities like Miami off the map. These are precisely the sort of harms that, by law, require EPA action.

To put it another way, the Obama Administration is carrying out the intent of Congress, as expressed in previously enacted legislation. This Congress is entitled to feel differently than its predecessors did. But to take away EPA’s mandate to act, it would have to pass new legislation that supersedes the old. In other words, it would have to amend or repeal the Clean Air Act itself. That’s not likely to happen.

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