Monday, April 13, 2009

Congress or EPA?

The much anticipated congressional action on greenhouse gas legislation may go nowhere this year – a victim of other priorities and the allocation of political capital. At the same time EPA is moving ahead with CO2 regulations using a recent ruling that the gas could be judged harmful. There has been much commentary that this is second best but I am not so sure. Whatever the United States does now is simply an overture to the post-Kyoto international negotiations which will have to come back to the Congress for ratification. All that matters now is for the U.S. to establish its bona fides by acting unilaterally. EPA is just as good a vehicle to do that as the Congress. Maybe better. Unlike the Congress, EPA is not subject to the push and pull of regional interests that can force self-interested compromises. But more important, EPA has come to be accepted as a kind of public health agency and public health agency have a protected political status. We tend to accept the regulations they visit on us as for our own good even if they hurt in the short run. Politicians know this and understand that doing unpopular things through such agencies gives them some protection from the political wrath of their constituents.

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