- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

President Bush yesterday reacted to a landmark Supreme Court decision on greenhouse gases by directing four federal agencies to come up with regulations before he leaves office in 2009 that will cut consumption of gasoline by 20 percent.

Mr. Bush’s executive order, which he said will be the “starting point” for regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency and departments of Energy, Agriculture and Transportation, previously was offered as a legislative plan in his State of the Union address.

Yesterday, for the first time, administration officials said the Supreme Court decision last month made it clear they have the authority to impose the plan through executive action without approval from Congress.

Mr. Bush’s move to unilaterally raise fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks and to force gas stations to offer ethanol and other renewable fuels comes on a day when gas prices hit a new national record of $3.10 a gallon. It appears designed to pre-empt legislation in Congress that would go further than Mr. Bush in increasing fuel efficiency, promoting renewable fuels and imposing curbs on greenhouse gases.

“We’re taking action,” Mr. Bush said. “Our dependence on oil creates a risk for our economy because a supply disruption anywhere in the world could drive up American gas prices to even more painful levels. Our dependence on oil creates a threat to America’s national security because it leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes and to terrorists who could attack oil infrastructure.”

Mr. Bush said he is taking a “common sense” approach that will not hurt the economy through heavy-handed regulation and will promote private innovation.

“We now have reached a pivotal moment where advances in technology are creating new ways to improve energy security, strengthen national security and protect the environment,” he said.

Environmentalists and Democrats in Congress immediately branded the move as politically motivated and inadequate in addressing the health and environmental problems they say are caused by global warming.

“The president asked his agency heads to share ideas and come up with a plan that is due three weeks before he leaves office,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat. “Our oil dependence is too high and the threat of global warming is too great to allow half measures and delay to take the place of action any longer.”

Calling the timing “suspiciously political,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, said “the absence of any standards in today’s announcement is a reason why Americans will be looking to Congress for stronger leadership on energy policy.”

Senate committees have approved legislation calling for an increase in average fuel economy from 25 mpg to 35 mpg in 2015 and mandating greater use of ethanol and biofuels. House and Senate committees also are moving toward imposing mandatory caps on greenhouse gases — primarily the carbon dioxide that is a byproduct of burning gasoline in cars and coal in power plants.

Mr. Bush opposes such mandatory curbs on greenhouse gases, which he says would hurt the economy, but he is pushing for nearly fivefold increases in biofuels production and an aggressive target of raising fuel-economy standards by 4 percent a year to roughly 34 miles per gallon in 2017 — close to the mandate in the Senate bill.

The plan to slash U.S. gasoline consumption would have a far-reaching impact on the marketplace for fuel — and already is being blamed in part for the drum-tight supplies and high prices for gasoline this spring. But it would not put much of a dent in the amount of greenhouse gases that many scientists blame for raising global temperatures. Environmentalists are calling for much more drastic cuts of 50 percent or more in fuel use and emissions.

EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson said he will spearhead the regulatory effort but will work with other agencies under orders from Mr. Bush. Whether the procedures he outlined will pass muster under the Supreme Court ruling is not clear.

Mr. Johnson said the court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and the EPA must decide whether to regulate it under procedures laid out by the Clean Air Act, which requires the agency to act if public health and the environment are endangered. The law as written does not allow the EPA to take into account such factors as economic cost and vehicle safety.

But Mr. Bush in his executive order directed the agencies to “carefully consider safety, science and available technologies, and evaluate the benefits and costs before they put forth the new regulation.”

Mr. Johnson said the high court’s decision provided the agency with ample latitude. He cited a dissenting opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, which described the EPA as having several options.

“The Supreme Court did not direct us to regulate,” he said. “If there was some other reasoned and rational explanation for why it was not necessary to regulate” then the EPA could defer action, he said. The EPA and other agencies will issue a draft rule by the fall, with the goal of finalizing it by the end of next year.

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