Year 4, Month 8, Day 1: The Skies That Shine In Your Eyes

The Youngstown Vindicator (PA) offers an analysis of responses to the Obama initiatives:

President Obama had barely announced his new climate strategy late last month when the criticism began. The plan, which will regulate carbon pollution from the nation’s power plants for the first time, is an important step in addressing global warming. Republican reaction in Congress was predictably scathing. And while most green groups praised the proposal, some environmentalists were frustrated, calling it “too little, too late” or “not nearly enough.”

Are they right?

The plan could have been bolder, but only if the administration took bigger political and legal risks. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency might have set a national air-quality standard for carbon dioxide, as it has done for conventional pollutants such as smog and soot, and required the states to issue implementation plans for how they would comply. The EPA has authority under the Clean Air Act to do this, and it would have amounted to an economywide program for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, potentially yielding much bigger cuts than the president’s plan.

But the EPA has consistently rejected this approach, on grounds that it could take more than a decade to implement, would enrage many states and would risk a backlash in Congress. Critics say that this approach is appropriate for ground-level pollution that states can more easily control but not for greenhouse gas concentrations, which are the result of global emissions that the states alone cannot change.

The agency could also make a difference — without setting a national standard for CO2 — by using a little-known provision of the Clean Air Act that addresses international air pollution. If the EPA finds, either on its own or at the request of the State Department, that U.S. emissions contribute to pollution that may “endanger” other nations, it must direct states to revise their pollution plans to prevent the endangerment.

Roger Martella, the EPA’s general counsel in the George W. Bush administration, has called this strategy “the most effective, flexible, economically reasonable and legally supportable means by which to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.” And an NYU think tank has petitioned the EPA to use it.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. July 15:

The accelerating climate crisis makes for perhaps the most precarious high wire any President has ever walked, with multiple aspects inherently outside the realm of comfortable compromise.

When Republican lawmakers eagerly repudiate the few members of their party who accept a worldwide scientific consensus, they make agreement impossible.

By co-opting our political process, purchasing the votes of legislators all over the country, fossil-fuel corporations ensure that any comfortable middle ground is submerged beneath a rising tide of corrupt cash.

When our media maintains a mythical false equivalency in which every climatologist is “balanced” by a paid shill from a conservative think tank, they irresponsibly ensure the failure of the most essential discussion in our species’ history.

But most obdurate of all are the laws of nature: the physics of the greenhouse effect, the atmospheric residence time of greenhouse gases like methane and CO2, and the likely consequences to our species of runaway climate change. These forces care nothing about electoral exigencies or the petty games of our national politics, and leaders of any party who fail to recognize this fact are doomed to ignominious failure.

Warren Senders

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *