Obama Doesn’t Rule Out Bypassing Congress and Using EPA Regulations to Cap Carbon Emissions

November 4, 2010 - 10:52 AM

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama makes an opening statement during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivias)

(CNSNews.com) - In a White House press conference Wednesday, President Barack Obama did not rule out using regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency to cap carbon emissions in the United States without an act of Congress.

Meanwhile, on October 25, the EPA announced new regulations to limit “greenhouse gas” emissions by heavy-duty trucks and buses.

In the last Congress, the House of Representatives passed a “cap-and-trade” bill that would have forced carbon emissions caps on U.S. industry in the interest of protecting the planet against warming. However, the Senate never voted on the bill.

During his Tuesday press conference, Obama initially conceded that Republicans had run for Congress in this election expressly opposing cap-and-trade and that therefore it would be unlikely that cap-and-trade global warming legislation could pass in the upcoming Congress.

“I think there are a lot of Republicans that ran against the energy bill that passed in the House last year,” said Obama. “And so it’s doubtful that you could get the votes to pass that through the House this year or next year or the year after.”

Later in the press conference, when Obama was asked if he was “open” to using EPA regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the same way as cap-and-trade legislation. While indicating he would like to work out a compromise with Republicans in Congress, Obama did not rule out using EPA regulation to limit carbon emissions and said the EPA was operating under a “court order” to treat greenhouse gasses as pollutants.

Obama called cap-and-trade “just one way of skinning the cat” in the process of establishing federal caps on greenhouse gas emissions.

“You said earlier that it was clear that Congress was rejecting the idea of a cap-and-trade program, and that you wouldn’t be able to move forward with that,” a reporter asked. “Looking ahead, do you feel the same way about EPA regulating carbon emissions?  Would you be open to them doing essentially the same thing through an administrative action, or is that off the table, as well?”

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama listens to a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“With respect to the EPA,” Obama said, “I think the smartest thing for us to do is to see if we can get Democrats and Republicans in a room who are serious about energy independence and are serious about keeping our air clean and our water clean and dealing with the issue of greenhouse gases -- and seeing are there ways that we can make progress in the short term and invest in technologies in the long term that start giving us the tools to reduce greenhouse gases and solve this problem.

“The EPA is under a court order that says greenhouse gases are a pollutant that fall under their jurisdiction,” Obama continued. “And I think one of the things that's very important for me is not to have us ignore the science, but rather to find ways that we can solve these problems that don’t hurt the economy, that encourage the development of clean energy in this country, that, in fact, may give us opportunities to create entire new industries and create jobs that--and that put us in a competitive posture around the world.

“So I think it’s too early to say whether or not we can make some progress on that front.  I think we can,” said Obama. “Cap and trade was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way.  It was a means, not an end.  And I’m going to be looking for other means to address this problem.

Obama did indicated that the EPA would like “help” from Congress on the issue.

“And I think EPA wants help from the legislature on this,” Obama said. “I don’t think that the desire is to somehow be protective of their powers here.  I think what they want to do is make sure that the issue is being dealt with.”

In the 2007 case of Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that greenhouse gasses were covered as a pollutant that the EPA could regulate under the existing Clean Air Act. The court, however, did not say the EPA must regulate greenhouse gasses. Rather, it said the EPA must determine whether or not carbon dioxide emissions (and emissions of other “greenhouse gasses”) endangered human “health and welfare.” Were it to make that determination, the EPA would then be required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

Last December, the EPA ruled that carbon dioxide—a gas that a human being exhales every time he or she takes a breath—does endanger human “health and welfare,” thus setting the stage for the EPA to cap carbon emission in the United States through bureaucratic regulations that do not require any further act of Congress.

The recently announced heavy truck and bus emissions standards are an example of this type of regulation.