- - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson recently announced that her agency would proceed with twice-delayed regulations targeting power plants that emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Mrs. Jackson’s decision ignores three vital pieces of information that should make it easy for Congress to prevent unelected bureaucrats from regulating CO2:

• The EPA inspector general’s finding that EPA did not follow federal data quality standards in preparing its “endangerment finding” regarding greenhouse gases.

• The profusion of scientific dissent.

• The massive economic costs and minimal environmental benefits.

In April 2009, the EPA issued an endangerment finding stating that the gases pose a serious threat to human health and public safety. It provided a lengthy technical support document to justify this position.

But this September, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General released its own report concluding that the agency’s document failed to follow federal guidelines for a “highly influential scientific assessment.” Specifically, the EPA had failed to publicly report its review results. Moreover, one of the federal climate-change scientists reviewing the document was an EPA employee.

The EPA responded by arguing that the document did not qualify as “highly influential,” yet the agency offered it to justify one of the most expansive - and expensive - regulations in history. If that’s not highly influential, what is?

The inspector general’s report does not question the scientific validity of the endangerment finding. But disagreement among the scientific community regarding the magnitude of anthropogenic global warming should have been sufficient reason for the EPA not to issue the endangerment finding in the first place.

In 2001, Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, participated in a 12-member panel of the National Academy of Sciences and produced a report essentially saying that the Earth is warming, and rising CO2 levels are playing a role in that warming, but we don’t know how much.

A decade later, little has changed. On Nov. 14, Reps. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, and Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat, architects of cap-and-trade legislation that failed to become law, hosted a briefing called “The End of Climate Change Skepticism.” One of three star witnesses, University of California, Berkeley astrophysicist Richard Muller said, “The amount that’s due to humans is still open, and there are fairly big uncertainties about that.”

Questions about how the sun and ocean currents affect warming remain unanswered, too, he added. Much to the hosts’ dismay, their own briefing revealed that “the science” on this issue is far from settled.

Regardless, the EPA’s CO2 regulations won’t reduce emissions enough to have any meaningful effect, anyway. China emits far more CO2 than we do, and its emissions - along with India’s - are increasing rapidly. Neither nation has any intention of scaling back economic growth to curb emissions. Unilateral U.S. action, therefore, wouldn’t make a dent in global temperatures.

The EPA’s regulations would, however, inflict serious economic harm. Although the agency targets the largest emitters of greenhouse gases first, the financial burden would extend to every American. The agency’s first two targets are fossil-fuel power plants and petroleum refineries. The U.S. gets 85 percent of its energy from fossil fuels. Regulating these entities would significantly increase energy costs - electricity, gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil - directly.

It also would raise consumer costs for all other goods. Higher energy costs increase transportation and operating costs for businesses, too. These additional expenses are passed on to consumers. The end result: A dramatically slower economy and many lost jobs.

Delaying the regulations sounds nice, but that’s not enough for energy-intensive businesses looking to launch or expand. Those jobs won’t be created with the threat of artificially higher energy costs lurking in the background.

They need some sense of certainty that the EPA won’t be allowed to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. A balanced and transparent debate about the EPA’s endangerment finding and climate change would be a good starting point.

Nicolas Loris is a policy analyst in the Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies.

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