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If Obama Wants to Get Tough on Regulation, He Must Examine the EPA

It seems as if President Obama has at last gotten the message: regulations kill jobs. The question is, will he do anything about it? The president recently released a new executive order calling for a review of existing regulations as well as establishing new procedures to ensure that regulations do not impose undue costs on the economy. 

At the same time, however, the Obama administration is expanding the regulatory burden exponentially. Along with the regulations required to implement the new health care laws and the financial services reforms, environmental issues continue to pose a substantial regulatory threat, particularly the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases. And, in a recent hearing, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated that the administration is still opposed to any congressional efforts to limit the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations.

In the wake of November’s historic elections, the regulatory threat becomes even more important. With cap-and-trade legislation all but dead in the new Congress, the EPA will become the primary vehicle for implementing the president’s climate change agenda. The EPA’s greenhouse gas mandates are part of an aggressive regulatory agenda that has the potential to impose billions of dollars in costs and substantial burdens on the economy. 

In addition to proposing greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act, the EPA also has a regulatory agenda that includes more than 40 significant rulemakings. Many of these are controversial and have raised concerns of cost, science, and agency discretion.

The EPA’s tactic of expanding the Clean Air Act to cover greenhouse gases is both unwieldy and costly. The Clean Air Act was designed to regulate pollutants specified and defined by the Act: particulate matter, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead.

Carbon dioxide, which is ubiquitous, would be extremely difficult to regulate with the tools designed to regulate these criteria pollutants. The cost for consumers and businesses would be exorbitant, something that the EPA implicitly acknowledged by issuing a “tailoring rule” to limit the impact of greenhouse gas regulations. In and of itself, the tailoring rule raises important questions about the EPA’s power grab and its arbitrary authority to pick and choose who will be covered by the Clean Air Act.

Fortunately, some in the new Congress have taken note. In both the House and Senate, legislation has been introduced to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has reintroduced his two-year moratorium on any EPA greenhouse gas regulations. More recently, Sen. John Barrasso, (R-Wyo.), introduced “Defending America’s Affordable Energy and Jobs Act,” (S. 228), a bill that would prohibit any regulatory agency from implementing greenhouse gas regulations without explicit authorization from Congress.

On the House side, Fred Upton, (R-Mich.), new chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, is working on a bill that would prohibit the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. Sen. Jim Inhofe, (R-Okla.), is planning to introduce a companion bill on the Senate side. 

Elsewhere in the House, a companion bill to the Rockefeller moratorium has been introduced, as well as a bill barring any EPA funding for implementing greenhouse gas regulations.

Rather than respond to congressional concerns, however, the White House has said it would veto any legislation limiting the administration’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases. If the president is serious about regulatory reform, the administration should take a long hard look at the EPA’s greenhouse gas initiatives. The agency is moving forward with a significant regulatory agenda that would impose billions of dollars in costs on the U.S. economy while doing virtually nothing to alter the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere.

Careful economic analysis and sound science are critical to avoiding unnecessary regulatory burdens. The EPA, and all other federal agencies, must be held to the highest standards when evaluating regulations. Costly regulations founded on poor science can be a significant burden on consumers and producers alike. In an economic slowdown, these are costs we can ill-afford and easily avoid.

Dick Armey, the former majority leader of the House of Representatives, is the chairman of FreedomWorks, and co-author of “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto.”