Yesterday the Energy and Power Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to remove the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The NYT covers the vote here. This is a good first step on climate policy — but it should be just that, a first step. Unfortunately, it may be the sum-total of House Republicans’ climate policy.
Regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is a mistake. This decades-old statute was designed to address a quite different set of problems and is not well-suited to greenhouse gas emission control, let alone regulating the planetary thermostat. As I explained here (and here), these efforts will produce a regulatory morass — and the Obama Administration recognizes as much, which is why it has sought to rewrite the law through regulatory fiat under it’s so-called “tailoring rule.” And yet this is only the beginning. Now the the Clean Air Act’s regulatory authority has been triggered, the EPA will be required to do still more. (I survey some of these efforts in a forthcoming article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy
which I will link as soon as it’s posted on SSRN.)
Stripping the EPA of authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is a good idea, but it is not, by itself, a climate change policy. More is necessary, but Congressional Republicans do not seem likely to even attempt the next step. As is so often the case in environmental policy, Republicans have a good idea of what to oppose, but no clue about what to support. The result is a half-baked approach to environmental issues, and measures that, in some cases, are worse than doing nothing at all.
So what should Republicans be doing on climate change? For years I have been arguing for a combination of policies that would include a) a revenue-neutral carbon tax, like that proposed by James Hansen, offsetting new taxes on carbon with reductions in income or other taxes; b) measures to incentivize and accelerate energy and climate-related innovation, including technology inducement prizes; c) streamlining of regulatory requirements that hamper the development and deployment of alternative energy technologies, including (but not limited to) offshore wind development; d) policies to facilitate adaptation due to the inevitability of some amount of climate change, and e) elimination of policies that subsidize energy inefficiency and excess greenhouse gas emissions, including ill-conceived ethanol mandates (which, among other things, forestall efforts at reforestation). Would this be enough? Maybe not, but it would be a start — and it would be far better than simply stripping EPA of regulatory authority and then hoping the risk of climate change would just go away.