It certainly took a while, but the US Environmental Protection Agency is finally doing the right thing and endorsing the science behind global warming. In doing so, the EPA will also be answering a simple question: Does EPA have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases?
As it happens, the EPA went through this exercise with much less fanfare more than a decade ago, after a Republican lawmaker, worried about the Clinton administration’s activism on global warming, popped the question. Under then EPA Administrator Carol Browner (now President Barack Obama’s chief climate coordinator), the agency produced an opinion suggesting that indeed, carbon dioxide was a pollutant that could be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
The story plods along from there all the way to the Supreme Court, which basically said the same thing in 2007. It was a long, tortuous, path, but it illustrates how the judicial branch can in fact be used to get around the executive branch, as originally intended. The Bush administration, faced with a difficult decision that would either deny the science or result in regulations that it didn’t want to issue, elected to punt (more coverage here)
We covered some of the ramifications of that process in an online story on 17 April, which is when the EPA issued its proposed “endangerment finding.” The Supreme Court basically said EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases, assuming that there is good reason to do so. The endangerment finding, as it is currently written, answers that question in the affirmative.