Moving Forward on Climate Change

In all likelihood corn from fields like this one in Iowa will be used to fuel American cars. Photo by Homemade.

In the last few months, high-profile senators like Obama, Clinton, Kerry, McCain, and Lieberman have all introduced important climate legislation, and consequently Congress has found itself center-stage in the struggle to find a solution to global warming. But while Congressional leaders continue to shine in the public spotlight, it’s important not to overlook recent developments in the other two branches of government.

The first happened earlier this year when the United States Supreme Court ruled that, under the Clean Air Act, CO2 and other greenhouse gases could be regulated as pollutants. This was a major setback to the Bush Administration, which had argued before the Court that C02 and the like aren’t pollutants and therefore can’t be regulated. This is particularly important because without the court’s ruling, the executive branch would be just twiddling its thumbs. But after the court’s ruling, President Bush was legally obliged to act. Issuing an executive order, he called on the EPA to work with other relevant agencies to protect the environment with respect to greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, non-road vehicles and non-road engines, in a manner consistent with sound science.

The policy target set by the president’s so-called 20 in 10 plan aims to reduce US gasoline consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years. How does he plan to do this? By bringing in 35 billion gallons of renewable or alternative fuels by 2017 and improving efficiency of cars and light trucks by up to 4 percent per year.

If you look at the EPA’s public presentations on this, the EPA is taking an integrated systems approach, regulating both vehicles and fuels. Using green house gas performance standards for each, it will then allow for inter-industry trading. The EPA used a similar approach when it set the clean diesel rules, which have yielded among the highest benefit to cost ratios of any rules in US regulatory history. So this shows great promise!

As of now, everything is still a work in progress. The rules were expected to be formally proposed in December, but are now expected sometime next year. No one really knows how strong or weak the government’s proposal will come out or how it will be changed after a year of formal public comment. But taking the executive order as a starting point, and looking at the EPA’s plan, they seem to be trying to create a serious and effective regulation.

Pay attention, weigh in. This is the first major climate protection regulation from the United States.

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