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What the EPA can, and can't, do

With senators beginning to whine that John Kerry is annoying them by talking climate when they want to talk midterms, it's worth thinking seriously about what can be done on climate change in the absence of a bill that prices carbon. Jon Chait makes the argument for the EPA option, and Brad Plumer picks up the ball:

Here's a recent piece I did outlining what, exactly, EPA carbon regulations would entail. A number of experts I talked to suggested that, in the short term, an EPA crackdown on fossil polluters plus an ambitious energy-only bill from Congress that promoted efficiency and other forms of clean power could actually accomplish a lot in the next decade or so (at least so long as Congress or, say, President Palin don't step in and neuter the agency). There are lots of factories and power plants out there that are woefully inefficient, the technology exists to improve them, and a regulatory nudge from the EPA, while not the most nimble way of doing things, would start cleaning up the air. (It'd become virtually impossible to build any new dirty coal-fired plants, for instance.) As studies like this one from McKinsey have found, we could easily cut, say, 20 percent of our emissions this way.

In the long term, though, we'd really need a price on carbon to transform the country's energy sector and give people incentive to develop new clean-energy technologies — having the EPA just flatly tell polluters that they have to adopt this or that specific pollution-cutting gizmo isn't very good for innovation. But hey, maybe a few years from now we'll have a Congress that's ready to address this problem. Odder things have happened.


By Ezra Klein  |  June 21, 2010; 1:51 PM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Comments

I truly weep for your country that "President Palin" figures into your long-time concerns.

She took down McCain (which is good, because I didn't like him either). Palin would just be the next in a long line of "Aw shucks" Presidents.

Speaking of which, we need a new and more permanent woman for PM. Last time we tried that it only lasted a couple months =/

Posted by: akusu | June 21, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

While EPA COULD do a lot - targeting just electricity generators who use coal, for instance, EPA WON'T do much.

There is no majority in either House or Senate to support EPA doing 'Congress's Job". A vote to strip EPA of this power would be supported by all of the GOP and almost all of Blue Dog Dems if they try to act substantatively.

There are at least three Congressional parties now: Progressive Dems, Blue Dog Dems (who 30 years ago would be called Republicans), and The Republican rump attached to the tea-party crazies. Sadly, the Prog. Dems are the smallest of these three parties on 'tough' votes.

Just hum to yourself Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" and you'll fell better even if reality really sucks.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | June 21, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

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