09/20/2010 05:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

All's Not Quiet on the U.S. Climate Change Front

Crossposted with

The Environmental Protection Agency is on the march, while U.S. senators prepare a flanking attack.

Lots of Americans are quite happy these days. Why? Because it's football season and there's nothing like a good old-fashioned battle on the gridiron.

Tune Into Washington for the Action

the greens vs the reds in the battle of climate change regulation It's the "reds" against the "greens" in the heated battle over climate protection.
Of course, if you like to see a good fight, Washington can be a great source of entertainment. And near the top of the action list has got to be the battle over climate change policy in the United States. For shorthand let's call it a battle between the greens (those favoring climate change policy)  and the reds (those favoring the status quo).

For years the reds have been routing the greens. But in 2009, the greens turned the tables and won big time in the House of Representatives with the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), often referred to simply as Waxman-Markey.

On to the Senate!, cried the greens following their House win, in hopes of a quick and decisive victory. But it was not to be. The greens got hopelessly bogged down in the other chamber, and were never able to capture the "60-Filibuster-Proof-Votes Hill," a piece of property essential to launching a successful legislative battle in the Senate. Another red victory.

A Battle Lost but not the End of the War

As things got quiet on the congressional front, the greens turned to their reserve forces: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose regulatory power over carbon dioxide is vested in the Clean Air Act. Lo and behold, marching under the EPA banner, the greens have been gobbling up new strategic territory.

It all began with a panzer attack last December when EPA finalized its endangerment finding that greenhouse gas emissions pose a health risk to the American people and, as such, must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. EPA followed up with two major strikes deep into low-carbon territory:

Together these two measures would accomplish at least some of the goals the greens envisioned in congressional legislation. Do these wins signal a green victory of sorts in the making?

Counterattack from Congress

Maybe not, because now comes the counterattack. First, with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) leading the charge, the Senate attempted a direct frontal attack with legislation aimed at stripping EPA of its authority to write climate rules. The bill failed in June (and even if it had passed, it would have probably been a Pyrrhic victory as President Obama would almost certainly have vetoed it).

Having lost a direct attack on the environmental agency's regulatory authority, the red strategy shifted to flanking tactics -- going after EPA's purse strings. One rider to EPA's spending bill, Sen. Murkowski's latest salvo, would block EPA's ability next fiscal year to spend money writing climate rules for power plants and the like. A rider in Sen. Jay Rockefeller's (D-WV) plan would up the freeze to two years.

Skirmishes Aplenty

Last week saw lots of speculation on whether the reds (e.g., Republicans and coal-state Democrats) on the Senate Appropriations Committee would get the opportunity to attach riders to the funding bills for EPA and the Interior Department. A committee vote scheduled on the appropriations bill for last Thursday is reported to have been "indefinitely postponed" to head off any such move.

Meanwhile the greens are planning their own counter-counterattack. There is speculation that EPA's funding bill may get bundled into the larger omnibus package for a vote later this year making it harder for senators to vote against any one provision.

Heat from Industry and Others

The reds have opened another flanking attack against the greens and EPA along yet another front -- the courtroom. More than 150 businesses, trade associations and others have joined in the dozens of legal challenges that have been filed against the endangerment finding. (EPA denied 10 of these in July.) Five specifically target the tailoring rule [pdf] (which limits the regulation to the largest stationary emitters of greenhouse gases) and at least one challenges EPA's vehicular greenhouse gas regulations. More keep coming (subscription required), including some from unlikely quarters.

California Reds Aim to Breach Climate Maginot Line of Landmark Global Warming Act

And in still another flank attack, reds in California have set their sights on the Global Warming Solutions Act, aka AB32, the most ambitious state-based climate change legislation in the United States. A referendum on the ballot this November, Proposition 23, would upend the law, requiring the state "to abandon implementation of comprehensive greenhouse-gas-reduction program that includes increased renewable energy and cleaner fuel requirements." While not directly related to EPA's rulemaking, canceling AB32 would be a major, major defeat for the greens on a front they thought they had secured for years: the Golden State.

What happens next? Who knows. Just get into your bunker and stayed tuned. That might be a good idea anyway. If the climate catastrophes come, you'll be right where you need to be.

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