The Heat Is Online

Bush to Court: Thanks But No Thanks

Bush Splits With Congress and States on Emissions

The New York Times, April 4, 2007


WASHINGTON, April 3  A day after the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases, President Bush said he thought that the measures he had taken so far were sufficient.


But the courts ruling was being welcomed by Congress and the states, which are already using the decision to speed their own efforts to regulate the gases that contribute to global climate change. As a result, Congress and state legislatures are almost certain to be the arenas for far-reaching and bruising lobbying battles.


Mr. Bush made it clear in remarks on Tuesday that he thought his proposal to increase automobile fuel efficiency was sufficient for the moment; he gave no indication he would ask the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate emissions of heat-trapping gases.


Whatever we do, he said, must be in concert with what happens internationally. He added, Unless there is an accord with China, China will produce greenhouse gases that will offset anything we do in a brief period of time.


But with Congress and the states more determined than ever to act, some of the nations largest industries  including automobile manufacturers and the oil companies that make their gasoline, and electric utilities and the coal companies that fire many of their boilers  now face the increasingly certain prospect of expensive controls on emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common heat-trapping gas associated with climate change.


At least 300 bills have been filed in 40 states that address heat-trapping gases and climate change in some form, said Adela Flores-Brennan, a policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.


In Washington, Congress has already begun a process that would eventually apportion both the responsibility for cuts in emissions that could cost tens of billions of dollars and the benefits and incentives that could mean billions of dollars of new income.


Obviously, nobody wants to bear a disproportionate share of the burden, said Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the newly created House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Its now going to be a multidimensional chess game with the planets future in the balance.


The way legislation apportions emissions cuts among industries  and, as important, how the credits earned by companies that reduce emissions are allocated  will be the focus of the lobbying, said Mr. Markey and lobbyists for environmental groups and industry.


Its incumbent on everyone to roll their sleeves up, if they havent already, to deal seriously with this problem, said Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association, the trade group for the coal mine operators who will be at the center of the lobbying. If pain concentrates the mind, there will be more concentration on the issue now.


Coal is the major source of electricity in more than half the states, and coal is the fuel most closely associated with high levels of emissions of carbon dioxide. And coal interests have a bipartisan audience. The United Mine Workers is a natural Democratic constituency, while the National Mining Association has been a reliable supporter of the Bush administration.

There are differences within the industry, Mr. Popovich said, but we are allied in favor of a solution that preserves coals growth in the United States.


Next to the electric-utility sector, which is responsible for about 40 percent of emissions of heat-trapping gases, Mr. Markey said, comes the transportation sector, which contributes roughly 30 percent.


The auto industry has long opposed increases in fuel-efficiency standards, which automatically mean a reduction in heat-trapping gases. The oil industry has resisted controls on carbon dioxide emissions. Until recently, the two industries, while occasionally sniping at each other, had avoided explicit endorsement of the regulation that was most feared by the other.


But, with the likelihood of Congressional action increasing, that informal nonaggression pact has ended. Executives of the Big Three auto companies testifying in the House last month explicitly supported regulation of carbon dioxide. And a senior oil industry executive earlier this year gave a speech advocating increases in fuel economy.


The Supreme Court found Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency had erred in justifying its decision not to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. The court said that by providing nothing more than a laundry list of reasons not to regulate, the agency had defied the Clean Air Acts clear statutory command. The ruling also said that the agency could not sidestep its authority to regulate heat-trapping gases unless it could provide a scientific basis for its refusal to do so.


In Congress, controls on automobile emissions remain a work in progress. In more than a dozen states, beginning with California in 2002, they have become a fact  although these laws have been stayed pending legal challenges. Those challenges were greatly weakened, however, by the Supreme Court ruling.


States are not going to wait, said Dennis McLerran, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, created by Washington State. States are going to continue to act on this. If there is some confusion from this or if it creates greater pressure on Congress, then thats all to the good.


Washington is among more than a dozen states that have followed Californias lead in setting goals to restrict carbon dioxide emissions, and it is one of five Western states that have formed an alliance to combat climate change. States in the Northeast have formed a similar alliance.


Several environmental leaders said the court decision could persuade still other states to pass climate-change legislation.


Terry Tamminen, the former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and now a private consultant to states pursuing California-style caps on emissions, said he had recently worked with elected leaders in Wisconsin, South Carolina, Florida and Maryland. Some of these states are more conservative than states in the West and Northeast and have not been strongly associated with efforts to restrict pollution. The court ruling, Mr. Tamminen suggested, will give cover for those Republicans who feel they need to take action.


They can say, Look, the debate is now over,  he said.

California has been in the vanguard, first with its bill to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicle tailpipes in 2002, and then with its landmark 2006 law requiring a 25 percent reduction in the states carbon dioxide emissions by 2020.


Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington have joined California to pursue a regional plan to cut emissions. The idea is to make it profitable for industries to pursue pollution reduction through cap-and-trade plans that would allow companies with emissions lower than the allowed caps to sell credits to companies that exceed them.

Most of the legislation in Congress follows the cap-and-trade model.

Outside the West and the Northeast, states are still finding their way. In North Carolina, government commissions are weighing measures like restricting auto emissions and establishing so-called renewable portfolios, which many states are proposing as a way to balance their energy supply between carbon-producing fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, and clean, renewable fuel sources like wind and solar power.


In Illinois, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has proposed restricting carbon emissions to 60 percent of 1990 levels by the year 2050, said Steve Frenkel, an aide to the governor.


Youve seen a lot of leadership coming out of the coasts, Mr. Frenkel said. Looking in the Midwest, where theres a lot of coal and industrial pollution, how we handle this here is important for how we handle this nationally.


With about half the states getting at least 50 percent of their electric power from coal, Congress will have to wrestle with the disproportionate impact that climate change legislation could have around the country.


Youve got 35 senators reliably for a pretty strong program, said David Doniger, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council. How do you get that to 50 or 60? You have to get senators who come from states where coal is important, autos are important and agriculture is important.