Will Senators Webb, Warner Stop the EPA?

Virginia Senators. Mark Warner and Jim Webb are on the last line of defense between you and the green police. They are crucial swing votes on a looming bipartisan Senate bill that would restore the Clean Air Act to its original meaning, and thereby prevent an unprecedented regulatory onslaught by bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Clean Air Act was written in 1970 to fight smog. Now President Barack Obama is trying to use it to regulate greenhouse gases thought to cause global warming. That’s a bad idea. A 40-year-old law to address smog doesn’t work for global warming. If the Clean Air Act were to apply literally to greenhouse gases, then virtually every edifice larger than a mansion, such as offices, small businesses, even apartment buildings, would become subject to oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Even the EPA admits that regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is “absurd.” To avoid having to shackle the entire economy, the EPA wants to increase the threshold for the regulation of greenhouse gas “pollution” under the Clean Air Act, from 250 tons a year, to 25,000 tons a year. Otherwise, the EPA argues, it will be forced to regulate almost everything, which would be, the EPA concedes, “absurd.”

But it’s not that simple. The EPA is part of the executive branch of government, and it is unconstitutional for the executive to legislate. The EPA’s attempt to alter the text of the Clean Air Act flies in the face of the separation of powers, one of America’s founding political principles. Environmentalist litigation groups undoubtedly will sue to ensure the full implementation of the Clean Air Act, and if they win, then the EPA will be forced to impose an unprecedented regulatory straightjacket on the American economy.

This is why Members of Congress never have voted to subject greenhouse gases to the Clean Air Act. In fact, in 1990, the Congress actually stripped a provision covering greenhouse gas emissions from a set of amendments to the Clean Air Act. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court determined in 2007 (Massachusetts v EPA) the Clean Air Act could be used to regulate greenhouse gases, even though Michigan Rep.  John Dingell, who authored the Clean Air Act, said that, “This [regulating greenhouse gases] is not what was intended by the Congress.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the EPA could regulate greenhouse gases, not that the EPA must regulate. Former President George W. Bush had the good sense to let sleeping dogs lie. President Obama, on the other hand, thinks he can leverage the Supreme Court’s decision into a political victory. He had campaigned for the presidency on a promise to deliver a “cap-and-trade” program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but he is having trouble getting it through Congress. So the President devised a high-stakes game of chicken. He is threatening to unleash the EPA in order to coerce climate legislation out of Congress.

These are hyper-partisan times, but both parties in Congress agree that they don’t like being pushed around by The White House. In the Senate, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has joined with Democratic colleagues Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to sponsor legislation, known as a Resolution of Disapproval, which would strip the EPA of the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Due to a procedural quirk, this resolution of disapproval cannot be filibustered, so it only needs a majority to pass in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has promised a vote soon, and it is expected to be very close. Virginia Sens. Webb and Warner are two of only a handful of swing votes. Their decisions will have an enormous impact on whether or not the Congress checks the President’s power grab.

Last week, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell co-signed a letter, with 17 other sitting governors from both political parties, “strongly” urging Congress “to stop harmful regulation of greenhouse gases.” Will Sens. Webb and Warner heed the Governor’s advice and vote to disarm the President’s weapon of mass-economic destruction?