Wanted: A Real Solution to an Urgent Problem

This post also appeared today in National Journal's Energy & Environment Experts blog in response to a question about Congressional action related to EPA's endangerment finding.

Let’s be absolutely clear here. Overturning EPA’s endangerment finding -- that greenhouse gases are a risk to public health and welfare – would send exactly the wrong signal about the serious nature of this issue. To take such an action, just days after our nation’s top scientific body (the National Academy of Sciences) issued a loud and clear call for action, should be unthinkable.

Some may vote for the resolution not intending to repudiate the science but to reserve the right of Congress (and not EPA) to set policies to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.  If this is their rationale, then a vote to delay EPA regulations for two years (along the lines of Sen. Rockefeller’s bill) might make more sense.

But the National Academy of Sciences’ reports underscore the urgency of the problem and the high costs of delaying action. Given that EPA has already both delayed the effective date of its rules and limited their applicability to the very largest sources, this proposal seems like it fixes a problem that no longer exists.  Alternatively, a possible proposal from Sen. Casey and Sen. Carper would essentially codify EPA’s regulations, keeping in place EPA’s efforts to focus on the largest sources first and removing the legal uncertainty that hangs over these efforts.  While potentially useful, there is of course an even better solution. 

The Senate could (and should) avoid all of the above and instead invest its time and energy over the next two months finding the common ground required to pass a clean energy and climate bill.  By going down this path, the Senate would achieve its goal of being the one to determine how greenhouse gases are regulated (including the role EPA should play).  Above all, it would be taking a critical first step in creating the clean energy economy that will be essential to our economic and environmental well-being in the 21st century.

The good news is that the key building blocks for a final bill already exist.  Instead of postponing action, the Senate has the opportunity to use the upcoming weeks to find the sensible solutions urgently needed to get our nation on a path that enhances our energy independence, protects against environmental disasters, spurs the growth of new technologies, and slows climate change.

Eileen Claussen is President