Obama to declare CO2 a dangerous pollutant

Bloomberg is reporting:

Barack Obama will classify carbon dioxide as a dangerous pollutant that can be regulated should he win the presidential election on Nov. 4, opening the way for new rules on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Democratic senator from Illinois will tell the Environmental Protection Agency that it may use the 1990 Clean Air Act to set emissions limits on power plants and manufacturers, his energy adviser, Jason Grumet, said in an interview. President George W. Bush declined to curb CO2 emissions under the law even after the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the government may do so.

Why is this a big deal? It means that Obama can jumpstart serious U.S. action on greenhouse gas emissions without having to wait for complex legislation to wind its way through the House and Senate — and then without waiting even longer for that legislation to actually create a CO2 price high enough to change utility decision-making. It allows him to act quickly to address the single most important first step that developed countries must act upon — new coal plants:

Placing heat-trapping pollutants in the same category as ozone may lead to caps on power-plant emissions and force utilities to use the most expensive systems to curb pollution. The move may halt construction plans on as many as half of the 130 proposed new U.S. coal plants.

Actually it could stop even more than half the plants, once people realize that the president is serious about immediate climate action.

Here are some of the comments Grumet made:

Obama “would initiate those rulemakings,’’ Grumet said in an Oct. 6 interview in Boston. “He’s not going to insert political judgments to interrupt the recommendations of the scientific efforts….”

“The U.S. has to move quickly domestically so we can get back in the game internationally,’’ Grumet said. “We cannot have a meaningful impact in the international discussion until we develop a meaningful domestic consensus. So he’ll move quickly….’’

Obama adviser Grumet, executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, said if Congress hasn’t acted in 18 months, about the time it would take to draft rules, the president should.

“The EPA is obligated to move forward in the absence of Congressional action,’’ Grumet said. “If there’s no action by Congress in those 18 months, I think any responsible president would want to have the regulatory approach.’’

I would make an even stronger statement. Even if Congress is able to pass a bill within 18 months, it seems very unlikely that it would start to restrict the emissions for another five years — and like Boxer-Lieberman-Warner it might well contain rip-offsets and other cost control provisions that restrict the price of carbon dioxide from rising too rapidly (see “Boxer-Lieberman-Warner update: Probably no U.S. CO2 emissions cut until after 2025” and “Dingell and Boucher draft climate bill: Likely no CO2 cut until near 2030”).

Using EPA’s authority means that Obama can start taking action against coal plants during his first term.

States where coal-fired plants may be affected include Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia and Florida.

Kudos to Grumet and Obama.

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