A little over a week ago the Environmental Protection Agency sent the White House its finding that global warming endangers public health and welfare. This doesn’t sound like news, and except for a minority of scientists out there it is very, very old news. But in the context of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling it is indeed big news:
The proposal — which comes in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision ordering EPA to consider whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act — could lay the groundwork for nationwide measures to limit such emissions. It reverses one of the Bush administration’s landmark environmental decisions: In July 2008 then-EPA administrator Stephen Johnson rejected his scientific and technical staff’s recommendation and announced the agency would seek months of further public comment on the threat posed by global warming pollution.
“This is historic news,” said Frank O’Donnell, who heads the public watchdog group Clean Air Watch. “It will set the stage for the first-ever national limits on global warming pollution. And it is likely to help light a fire under Congress to get moving.” (Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post)
This isn’t the first time the EPA has made such a finding. The last time, in the waning months of the Bush administration, senior White House officials stymied EPA scientists by the simple expedient of refusing to open the email. That was a move to protect utilities and automakers, who would have borne the costs, even as other sectors of the economy would have benefitted. Things are different now. Elections matter. And automakers and utilities are embarked on a different path.
Predictably, business groups flipped out, claiming it would lead to economic disaster. Not true, of course. We’re already there, led there by that same business community. It’s possible that some infrastructure projects under Obama’s stimulus plan will be challenged if they are environmentally harmful. As they should be. There is enough infrastructure work to do without doing work that will make things worse. This is the knee-jerk “no” response that has become the only tactic left to a discredited right wing. They continue to argue for maximizing the short term while turning a blind eye to the long term.
As I said, those are the same folks that got us in the mess to begin with.