As reported by the AP, "White House Memo Challenges Finding on Warming", an OMB document contains opinions that regulation of the greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act could have dramatic impacts on the economy. The release of the OMB memo seems to have put the Obama Administration on the defensive.
Major news outlets including the N.Y Times, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press reported the uproar regarding the memo. Here is how the Associated Press described the controversy surrounding the memo:
An Environmental Protection Agency proposal that could lead to regulating the gases blamed for global warming will prove costly for factories, small businesses and other institutions, according to a White House document.
The nine-page memo is a compilation of opinions made by a dozen federal agencies and departments during an internal review before the EPA issued a finding in April that greenhouse gases pose dangers to public health and welfare.
That finding could set in motion for the first time the regulation of six heat-trapping gases from cars and trucks, factories and other sources under the Clean Air Act.
On Capital Hill, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson faced questions from Senators regarding the memo (video of her testimony). The memo was described by some as the "smoking gun" that supported Republican and business claims that regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act would have a devastating impact on the economy.
The memo also called into question EPA’s claim that the scientific underpinnings for its proposed endangerment finding made an "overwhelming" case for regulation due to the threats presented by climate change. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the memo criticized EPA’s scientific support for the endangerment finding:
“The amount of acknowledged lack of understanding about the basic facts surrounding [greenhouse gases] seem to stretch the precautionary principle to providing regulation in the face of unprecedented uncertainty,” the memo reads.
After the release of the memo and the ensuing uproar, the Wall Street Journal suggested EPA may be wavering in its commitment to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Such conclusions seem to be supported by statements made by the Director,of OMB Peter Orszag, on his blog.
Media reports today are suggesting that OMB has found fault with EPA’s proposed finding that emissions of greenhouse gases from motor vehicles contribute to air pollution that endangers public health and welfare. Any reports suggesting that OMB was opposed to the finding are unfounded…
Perhaps more importantly, OMB concluded review of the preliminary finding several weeks ago, which then allowed EPA to move forward with the proposed finding. As I wrote on this blog on April 17, the "proposed finding is carefully rooted in both law and science." I also noted: "By itself, the EPA’s proposed finding imposes no regulation. (Indeed, by itself, it requires nothing at all.) If and when the endangerment finding is made final, the EPA will turn to the question whether and how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new automobiles."
Orszag seems to be going out of his way to minimize the significance of the endangerment finding. Such statement belittle the fact that if the endangerment finding is finalized it will set in motion significant regulation of sources under the Clean Air Act.
After reading the the coverage, I just don’t understand all the fuss. Of course regulation under the Clean Air Act would have dramatic impacts on the economy. U.S. EPA’s Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking (ANPR) sets forth numerous examples of the difficulties and issues associated with regulation under the Act. Even though the ANPR was written during the Bush years, the issues it identifies remain valid. I have written numerous posts discussing how the structure of the Clean Air Act is ill-suited for regulating greenhouse gases.
Lets face it, the Obama Administration understands these issues as well. That is why it has been using the threat of regulation to leverage passage of cap and trade legislation. EPA Administrator Jackson reiterated support for cap and trade legislation today.
Thus far the Administration has taken very slow and deliberate steps toward regulation. Many critical decisions related to climate change are under "EPA review " or in the draft stage. To date, environmental groups have been content to let the Administration move forward at its own pace. They are convinced regulation is inevitable.
How long can EPA realistically string out the decisions on whether to address climate change under the Clean Air Act? The longer the string out the decision, the less effective EPA’s threats are in leveraging Congress. At some point, Congress may just be convinced EPA is bluffing.