The EPA Strikes Back
Q: Do you think EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health will prod Congress to agree on its own method for limiting emissions? If not, what do you think would be the environmental and economic impact of the EPA regulations? Will this convince other countries that the U.S. is likely to make deep cuts in carbon in the near future?
Over many years, the Clean Air Act has been a successful piece of legislation for managing pollutants, such as sulfur from coal combustion, which in the past have resulted in damage to forests, cities and ultimately human health. But all the pollutants that the Act has addressed have largely been managed by adjusting industrial processes, installing removal equipment, swapping certain materials for similar performing ones and establishing the use of catalytic converters in the transport sector. Whilst not meaning to underestimate the impact of these pollutants, the Act has effectively functioned at the margin of society - in other words, it hasn't driven us to fundamental change in the way we do things. That all changes with carbon dioxide and as a result, so should the legislative approach.
We know that over the next 40 years the energy system we have today will need redesigning from the ground up if we want to see a substantial drop in carbon emissions, with big changes in power generation, transportation, industrial processes and certain aspects of our lifestyle. This will involve very significant capital investment, so economic efficiency will be key to implementation. This is where a carbon market, such as delivered by a cap-and-trade system, comes into its own. It ensures that the transition is delivered systematically and at lowest cost to society. The approach outlined by USCAP in the Blueprint for Legislative Action outlines a way forward and much of its thinking has been picked up in the Waxman-Markey bill.
A regulatory approach stemming from the Clean Air Act may not only be more expensive to implement, but equally could lead to significant delay. It is hard to see it moving forward without legal challenge which in turn will create investment uncertainty and possible delays in permitting. The right thing to do now is press ahead with the cap-and-trade approach being considered by the Senate. It is a tool which is fit for purpose and can deliver the necessary change over the coming decades. Such an approach, with its clear timetable and future CO2 allocation enshrined into law will not only provide investment certainty for business in the United States but also make it clear to the rest of the world that the USA is now moving forward.
December 8, 2009; 3:26 PM ET
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Posted by: vanhook99 | December 11, 2009 8:30 PM
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