Battle over greenhouse gas regulation

The Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C. provides coal-fired energy for Capitol Hill

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: The news of the day this Friday has its roots in a Supreme Court ruling two years ago this month. The justices ruled back then that the Environmental Protection Agency does have the authority to regulate gases that contribute to global warming, if it finds those gases are a threat to human health.

That is exactly what the EPA found today. And it could mean huge changes for energy policy, and eventually put the EPA in charge of regulating everything from coal-fired power plants to lawn mowers. That'd be a pretty big mandate if it ever happens. So business groups are now asking Congress to step in and legislate greenhouse gas emissions instead. From Washington, Marketplace's Steve Henn reports.


Steve Henn: The National Association of Manufacturers says letting the EPA regulate carbon emissions could cost the country millions of jobs, jack up energy prices and generally create havoc. So they want Congress to act instead. Roger Martella was the top attorney at the EPA under George W. Bush.

Roger Martella: Many people see what the EPA is doing as not so much about actually regulating greenhouse gases, but being something of a stick to keep the pressure on Congress.

Congress is debating legislation right now on global warming. And environmentalists in the House -- like Ed Markey -- could not be happier about the EPA's move.

Ed Markey: If elected officials have to choose between regulation and legislation, they prefer legislation.

A couple of years ago it would have been almost inconceivable for some of the nation's biggest polluters to come out in favor of congressional action on climate change. But after today's decision, that scenario is no longer so far fetched.

Martella: Today is really the first step across the threshold.

Martella -- who's now in private practice -- says some of the biggest energy consumers in America are getting behind legislation that would cap carbon emissions and let businesses buy and sell the right to pollute.

The idea is over time the Feds would lower those caps, making polluting an expensive proposition.

Many on both sides of this debate say today's move by the EPA gives environmentalists in Congress a new weapon in the battle for cap and trade. But David Donniger at the Natural Resources Defense Council says that's not why the EPA acted.

David Donniger: I think people are leaping to the frame that this is being done only in order to kind of pressure Congress. No. It's being done to carry out existing law.

But Donniger says the EPA's action probably won't hurt the cap and trade bills' prospects when Congress takes up the issue next week.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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