Our view: Needless battle

Instead of tangling with EPA, senator should lead the way

December 16, 2009 

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski wants to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

She says the "worst scenario" is for the agency to do by regulation what Congress should do by legislation. Murkowski and other critics fear EPA action will be blind to the economic consequences, while Congress can craft a more economically flexible system for controlling the pollution.

She's right that Congress needs to act.

President Obama has said that he too would rather Congress do the job.

But he has also said that if Congress doesn't act, the EPA must take the initiative. And Congress hasn't been doing the job. EPA's work keeps the pressure on Congress to deal with the issue.

The EPA has been acting on a court order to determine if greenhouse gases were a threat to U.S. public health and if so, to deal with the threat according to provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Last week, the EPA formally recognized six greenhouse gases as dangerous to public health -- carbon dioxide, methane and four others. Described as the primary drivers of climate change, these gases contribute to longer and deadlier heat waves, and ground level pollution that contributes to asthma and other respiratory diseases.

The EPA finding does not immediately set any new rules for any U.S. industry, but it does clear the way to reduce emissions from cars and light-duty trucks, which the EPA says account for 23 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The president last spring called for those emission standards to take effect in 2012.

Based on the new finding, the EPA could also regulate greenhouse gases from other major industrial polluters.

So far Murkowski seems to have concentrated on stopping the EPA, rather than jump-starting Congress. She and her colleagues need to tackle the tough questions of balancing environmental and economic needs -- or better, and harder, legislating to make conservation and commerce work together.

That's the kind of legislation the United States needs. That's the kind of leadership the world needs from the United States.

Congress has a full plate with health-care reform, war in Afghanistan, millions of Americans out of work and credit so tight it's a rare dollar that escapes bailed-out banks.

But Congress always has a full plate.

Sen. Murkowski's message to the EPA shouldn't be "back off." It should be, "We're on it. Help us get there."

BOTTOM LINE: Congress needs to act on greenhouse gases, not waste energy keeping the EPA at bay.

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