Sen. Baucus, I Salute You! OK, I Will Salute You If…

In a message titled, “EPA WILL REGULATE GLOBAL WARMING IN STATES WITH OR WITHOUT AUTHORITY,” the ever-vigilant Maryam Brown of the Senate Republican Policy Committee reports:

As you likely saw, Senator Baucus [D-MT] said yesterday that he would strip U.S. EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act: “That would put too much power into few hands.” (Source:  E&E News) Senator Baucus’s apprehension to EPA’s power over all activity is well placed.

On October 5th, EPA officials said that those states not cooperating come January 2nd would face a gap in permitting authority that could prevent sources from receiving the necessary permits.  [In plain English: If states don’t come along, the Obama EPA will hold up projects (and the jobs that go with) in your state.]  (Source:  BNA Daily)

Because these statements echoed states such as Texas’s fears that EPA has a “plan for centralized control of industrial development through the issuance of permits for greenhouse gases,” EPA issued a clarifying statement on October 6th: “EPA has a mechanism in place to ensure permitting can occur without disruption in any states that currently do not have authority to regulate GHG.”  [In plain English: Whether there is authority or not, the Obama EPA will regulate the states.] (Source:  BNA Daily)

Baucus’s opposition to EPA regulation of greenhouse gases is noteworthy for three reasons.

First, as E&E News observes, Sen. Baucus “is considered a key vote to obtain in order to pass any climate bill and a bellwether for many other moderate Democrats on the issue.” Second, Baucus voted against Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s resolution (S.J.Res.26) to overturn EPA’s Endangerment Rule — the trigger for a cascade of greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act. If he is a “bellwether,” then other opponents of S.J.Res. 26 may also have come to their senses and realize that Congress should not let EPA legislate climate policy.

Third, although Baucus may not acknowledge it, his “too much power into few hands” argument is tacit criticism of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, which both authorized and pushed EPA to regulate greenhouse gases via the Clean Air Act. The Court authorized EPA to regulate greenhouse gases when it declared that “greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant'” (they don’t, as I explain here).

In addition, the Court pushed EPA to regulate greenhouse gases by pre-judging EPA’s endangerment proceeding. The Court held that EPA must make a positive finding of endangerment if it decides that “greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change” — as if climate change per se = endangerment. Since greenhouse gases by definition have a greenhouse effect, the Court left EPA only one alternative — declare that “the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment as to whether greenhouse gases contribute to global warming.” An impossible alternative for an agency that had been a certified member of the alleged “scientific consensus” for many years.

The key point regarding Mass. v. EPA, though, is that Sen. Baucus is almost uniquely qualified to rebut the claim that the Clean Air Act authorizes EPA to regulate greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles. During congressional deliberation on the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, Baucus  introduced legislation requiring EPA to do just that. As originally introduced on September 14, 1989, S. 1630, the Senate version of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, contained a Section 216 on “Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Passenger Cars.” The provision would require the Administrator to establish tailpipe emission standards for CO2:

SEC. 216. (a) PROMULGATION OF REGULATIONS- The Administrator shall promulgate regulations providing for standards applicable to emissions of carbon dioxide from passenger automobiles (as defined in 15 U.S.C. 2001(2)). Such standards shall require that for model years 1995 to 2002, the average of such emissions from passenger automobiles manufactured by any manufacturer shall not exceed two hundred and forty two grams per mile, and for model year 2003 and thereafter, such average shall not exceed one hundred and seventy grams per mile.

However, the Senate declined to adopt that provision.  Another part of Baucus’s draft legislation, Title VII of S. 1630, would have made “global warming potential” a basis for regulating “substances manufactured for commercial purposes,” such as chlorofluorcarbons and halogens. Although Title VII declared reductions in CO2 and methane emissions as a national goal, it did not explicitly provide authority to regulate those gases, which are byproducts of combustion and agricultural activity rather than “substances manufactured for commercial purposes.”

In any event, the House-Senate conference committee ultimately rejected even that limited basis for global warming regulation while also dropping Title VII’s goal of reducing CO2 and methane emissions. The only trace of Title VII’s climate language that survived is Section 602(e) of Title VI, which directs the Administrator to “publish” the “global warming potential”of ozone-depleting substances. To ensure that trigger-happy regulators would not go off half-cocked, the phrase “global warming potential” is immediately followed by this admonition: “The preceding sentence shall not be construed to be the basis of any additional regulation under [the CAA].”

So with the possible exception of Rep. John Dingell (see pp. 65-66 of this committee print), who chaired the House-Senate conference committee on the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, probably nobody on Capitol Hill knows better than Sen. Baucus that Congress never authorize EPA to regulate greenhouse gases for climate change purposes. Baucus tried to persuade the Senate to approve greenhouse gas emission standards for new motor vehicles — and failed. House and Senate conferees also rejected the other greenhouse gas regulatory provisions he had proposed. A lawmaker doesn’t forget stuff like that!

And now, 20 years later, Baucus is willing to break ranks with his own party leadership and incur the wrath of the green establishment because EPA is amassing powers that, in the last major re-write of the Clean Air Act, he tried and failed to confer on the agency via legislation. Sen. Baucus, I salute you! OK, I will salute you if you match your brave words with action and do something to stop EPA!

The Court in Mass. v. EPA ignored its own better judgment: “Few principles of statutory construction are more compelling than the proposition that Congress does not intend sub silentio [by its silence] to enact statutory language that it has earlier discarded in favor of other language.” INS v. Cardozo-Fonseca, 480 U.S. 421, 442-43 (1983) It is not too late to correct the Court’s error. If Sen. Baucus is indeed a bellwether, that correction may not be long in coming.