Lead, follow or get out of the way

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward with plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.

At the same time, Congress — a leading source of hot air — is debating a resolution that would strip the EPA of its authority to act.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., says she wants to prevent “federal bureaucrats” from enacting regulations that would destroy jobs. She has introduced a “resolution of disapproval” that has the support of 35 other Republicans and three conservative Democrats.

A landmark 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling gave the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act and directed the agency to set standards that would limit those releases.

Much of Murkowski’s rhetoric is just plain wrong. On one point, however, she is absolutely correct: Ideally, Congress, not the EPA, should write rules to limit emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gases.

Unfortunately, Congress continues to do nothing. It’s been unable to move forward even on bipartisan measures, including the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.

That 2003 bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who then was a Democrat, would have limited emissions beginning this year.

Like climate change legislation approved last year in the House, the McCain-Lieberman bill would have established a cap-and-trade system in which pollution credits could be bought and sold.

That’s the only realistic, market-based solution that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the development of new, nonpolluting technologies.

But even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, opposition from congressional Republicans has hardened. They’ve taken to demonizing cap-and-trade as a “radical” approach to reducing emissions.

Murkowski has said that her resolution “has nothing to do with the science of global climate change.”

That’s disingenuous.

Her measure draws its deepest support from those who deny the reality of climate change. It would overturn an EPA finding based on scientific analysis that climate change fueled by greenhouse gas emissions poses a health hazard to the public.

That finding puts new pressure on Congress to act. For years, it dragged its feet and delayed addressing a serious issue.

Opponents claim that the recession makes it too expensive to address climate change now. But the longer we wait, the more expensive it becomes and the less likely we will be successful in staving off the worst consequences of climate change.

By refusing to act, Murkowski and her congressional allies are placing an enormous bet, based on sophistry and denial, that the mountain of scientific evidence is wrong. That’s not a bet that we, or our children and grandchildren, can afford to lose.

The decade that ended in 2009 was the warmest on record, NASA reported earlier this month. It displaced the decade of the 1990s as the warmest ever. The 1990s displaced the 1980s.

Last year was the second-warmest since 1880, when modern temperature measurements began. The warmest year on record was 2005. All of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. Perhaps you’re starting to see a pattern.

Congress can choose to delay addressing global climate change, but it shouldn’t prevent the EPA from doing its job.

The choice isn’t between the status quo or the cost of limiting greenhouse gas emissions. It’s between acting now or taking more drastic, expensive and uncertain action later.

The above editorial was originally published Jan. 27 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Content was made available by MCTCampus.