EPA Can Bypass Congress and Act on Climate Change

Congress — wary of 2010 mid-term elections – appears to be unlikely to pass climate change legislation this year, writes Jeffrey D. Sachs in Scientific American.

According to Sachs, “The fracture lines are countless, but probably the most important one runs through public opinion.  A recent poll showed only 36 percent of Americans believing that the evidence of human-induced climate change is firm, down from 47 percent in early 2008.  The rise of unemployment has perhaps made people more reluctant to accept adverse news on living standards.  There is also considerable public confusion about climate science and possible remedies.”

The coal and oil lobbies are powerful; their opposition to climate-change legislation is well-financed and highly organized.  Environmental groups have difficulty reaching consensus, with many opposing nuclear power and coal use.  Conservationists have even fought renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines near farms and coastlines, solar thermal plants in desert states and high-voltage transmission lines close to homes.

Sachs believes that the Environmental Protection Agency – with the mandate provided by the Clean Air Act – could do an end run around Congressional inaction by imposing a schedule of emissions standards impacting electric companies and cars, trucks and buses.  Finally, a plan needs to be articulated because the public fears that climate-change legislation might impact jobs and living standards.  Although the Obama administration has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020, the public does not know how the government intends to meet that goal.