The Coming Climate Policy Clash:

I have an article on NRO today explaining why greenhouse gas controls of some sort are inevitable under current law. As I explain, a practical consequence of the Supreme Court's Massachusetts v. EPA decision is that the EPA is required to treat greenhouse gases as pollutants and regulate them accordingly. The agency has never made a formal endangerment finding, but this is a mere formality. The agency has reiterated its view of the threat of greenhouse gases so often that it would have little chance defending any effort. As a consequence, whatever discretion over whether to regulate the Court's decision appeared to give the agency is a mirage.

A memo distributed by new EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to agency staff suggests the EPA shares my assessment of Mass v. EPA. In it, Jackson writes:

The President has pledged to make responding to the threat of climate change a high priority of his administration. He is confident that we can transition to a low-carbon economy while creating jobs and making the investment we need to emerge from the current recession and create a strong foundation for future growth. I share this vision. EPA will stand ready to help Congress craft strong, science-based climate legislation that fulfills the vision of the President. As Congress does its work, we will move ahead to comply with the Supreme Court's decision recognizing EPA's obligation to address climate change under the Clean Air Act.
This creates an interesting conundrum for those (like me) who think regulating greenhouse gases under the existing Clean Air Act would be a colossal mistake. The Act is barely able to deal with its intended goal of reducing traditional air pollutants. Its various provisions are an exceedingly poor fit for the threat of climate change.

So, if implementing current law is bad, what would make a good alternative? I'd gladly take a revenue-neutral carbon tax in exchange for exempting greenhouse gases from the Clean Air Act. I suspect others may disagree. Yet what those who oppose a carbon tax (or cap-and-trade or whatever) need to recognize is that support for the status quo is support for regulating greenhouse gases under the existing Clean Air Act -- and I doubt that's an alternative many carbon tax or cap-and-trade opponents would find more agreeable.