Much maligned carbon dioxide just can't catch a break. Without it, plants would die, and we'd have no oxygen to breathe. Yet the Environmental Protection Agency insists this harmless gas is a blight on the planet and must be eliminated, lest the stars fall and the planets collide. Or something like that. The U.S. Supreme Court is not usually subject to hyperventilation, but the EPA's ghost stories persuaded the court to enable the EPA to regulate the air we breathe. Now the justices get a second chance to undo the damage they caused.
The court agreed last week to hear Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, a challenge to the agency's new rules for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from stationary sources, imposed under the Clean Air Act. The new standards follow from the court's 2007 decision that allowed the EPA to impose restrictions on tailpipe emissions by new cars and trucks. Several states and industry groups sued, arguing that permission to regulate vehicle exhaust doesn't confer authority over industry emissions as well.
This is a matter of life and death for the U.S. economy. The attorneys general of 12 states say the proposed regulatory scheme "represents the most sweeping expansion of EPA's authority in the agency's history, extending its reach to potentially millions of industrial, commercial and residential facilities across the country, at costs estimated to run into the tens of billions of dollars per year."
The court's earlier ruling enabled the EPA to set emissions standards for any substance "which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare." The agency thus declared carbon dioxide, even though necessary for life on earth, to be such a pollutant. The EPA set about writing rules to limit the harmless gas, first from car- and truck-tailpipe exhaust and now in industry emissions. Command of the air — the holy grail of regulatory radicals — is the power to control human activity.
The chance to dial back the war on carbon dioxide comes none too soon. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last month called for a global "carbon budget" that would severely limit the amount of carbon dioxide that humans are allowed to release into the atmosphere in order to prevent "global warming." This is bad news not only for heavy breathers, but for everyone else. With this latest report, the panel recommends that man-made carbon dioxide not exceed a total of about 1 trillion metric tons and warned that humans had reached one-half to two-thirds of that amount by 2011.
The U.N. overlooked the fact that the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen to 400 parts per million already and global temperatures have remained flat for more than 16 years. The predicted violent weather catastrophes never happened. The SI Organization, which specializes in remote sensing devices for weather forecasting, reported Friday that with only 771 recorded tornadoes so far this year, the United States is on track to count the fewest twisters since 2000. The nation is in the longest period without a Category 2 or stronger hurricane since the Civil War.
The global-warming alarmists overplayed their hand, and the public now recognizes the scare was all a sham and a scam. The regulatory octopus nevertheless continues to expand and has become as damaging to the nation's economy as pollution ever was to the environment. The Supreme Court must not miss this second chance to set things right.