It was just over a year ago that I drew attention in Crikey to a decision by the US Environmental Protection Agency that suggested President Barack Obama might have an alternative way of tackling a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions if the Congress persisted in thwarting his attempts to legislate for a form of cap-and-trade scheme.

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The EPA had just declared that greenhouse gases were a danger to public health. As the Los Angeles Times reported back then, that announcement was a key step in a legal process that would enable the agency to act, without Congressional approval, to develop tough rules to control emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that scientists blame for global warming.

That power to make changes by regulation instead of legislation was not one that the Obama administration used in the last year as it tried to get legislative support for a cap-and-trade scheme. But now that those efforts have been thwarted by Republican opposition, change by regulation is back on the agenda.

The Washington Post reports this morning:

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In a statement announcing its plan for establishing greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution standards under the Clean Air Act in 2011, the agency said it looked at a number of sectors and was moving forward on GHG standards for fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries—two of the largest industrial sources, representing nearly 40 percent of the GHG pollution in the United States.

The statement continued:

The schedule issued in today’s agreements provides a clear path forward for these sectors and is part of EPA’s common-sense approach to addressing GHGs from the largest industrial pollution sources.

“We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce GHG pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans, and contributes to climate change,” Administrator Lisa Jackson said. “These standards will help American companies attract private investment to the clean energy upgrades that make our companies more competitive and create good jobs here at home.”

The Washington Post report commented that the Obama administration is prepared to push its environmental agenda through regulation where it has failed on Capitol Hill, potentially setting up a battle next year with congressional Republicans. There was an immediate outcry from key GOP lawmakers and some affected industry groups.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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