William Becker, The Climate Policy Expert's Blog
Climate Policy Expert
“Saboteurs at Copenhagen – Part 2”
10 Dec 09 | 447 comments
Second, he should request that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson establish a carbon cap-and-trade system that equips the United States to participate in the global trading regime expected to emerge sooner or later from the United Nations process. Jackson should respond with a clean and transparent trading regime in coordination with states and regions that already have established their own trading systems.
Meantime, Obama should tell congressional leaders that he still prefers a market mechanism to regulation and he is willing to work with the Hill to make climate legislation work in tandem with the Clean Air Act. But he should set out these non-negotiable terms: The United States will cut its emissions 45 percent in the next 10 years. If Congress passes a bill with a lower cap, the Administration will regulate to achieve the rest. If Congress passes a bill that is wholly inadequate, the president will veto it.
Finally, if it appears the Senate cannot produce the 67 votes necessary to recommend ratification of an international treaty, the president should prepare to use an Executive Agreement to collaborate with other nations on carbon reduction and climate adaptation. An executive agreement can be used much like a treaty, but does not require a Senate vote.
Some members of Congress will react by trying to curtail EPA’s power and by placing new restrictions on executive agreements. To block such retaliation, the president should implement his strategy in full consultation with the members of Congress who believe in responsible climate action and who might he relieved to see the president take the heat. Obama should put Republicans and conservative Democrats in the position where they need 60 Senate votes to bring retaliatory legislation to the floor.
In Copenhagen on Tuesday, news of Jackson’s endangerment finding created a buzz of speculation about whether Obama would come to the climate conference with a December surprise – i.e., an announcement that he and Jackson planned to use the Clean Air Act to set a more ambitious carbon-cutting target than the president has embraced so far. Jackson was asked about this three times; she evaded the question each time, saying only that the EPA has to be mindful of lawsuits and has to take action that is “reasonable and cost-effective”.
But the EPA will be sued no matter what it does, and nothing is more reasonable and cost-effective than preventing severe climate change with all of its costly impacts, from drought and disease to national security threats and natural disasters. In fact, a strong climate policy that relies on energy efficiency and renewable energy, a smart grid and other improvements to our aging infrastructure, and that ends America’s dependence on foreign oil and slows our energy trade deficit, will put people back to work, from steelworkers to computer technicians.
The regulatory approach has been studied and recommended by groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity, which has just joined 350.org in petitioning EPA to use the Clean Air Act for aggressive cuts in greenhouse gases. http://www.yesmagazine.org/planet/using-the-clean-air-act-to-cap-carbon In an analysis issued earlier this year, the Center concluded:
Notwithstanding the fact that EPA currently has not only the full authority under the Clean Air Act, but the legal mandate, to begin requiring greenhouse emissions reductions immediately from nearly all major sources in the U.S., a decade of agency inaction under the statute has created a prevailing perception that the Clean Air Act is somehow “ill suited” to addressing greenhouse emissions and that new legislation is needed before meaningful U.S. action to address greenhouse emissions can occur. However, a review of Clean Air Act provisions demonstrates that the law is in fact very well-suited to addressing greenhouse emissions, and if expeditiously implemented and enforced would result in emission reductions in the U.S. at least equal to, but likely exceeding those under any climate legislation currently before Congress.
Researchers at the New York University Law School looked at the Executive Agreement option last April and concluded it can be used as an alternative to a treaty. http://www.policyintegrity.org/publications/documents/TheRoadAhead.pdf
It is time for the Executive Branch to assert itself. If it does, Obama can come to Copenhagen week with a bold and actionable commitment to cutting America’s carbon pollution, in a way that is under his control, saves the negotiations and renders meaningless the shameless shenanigans of the Flat Earth Caucus.