Mitt Romney sports a law degree along with his B-school background. But it doesn’t look like he paid much attention in class.
Politico reports that at a fundraiser in London last week, Mitt Romney declared:
“I happen to think that the decision by the Supreme Court and by the administration to have the EPA also regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide was beyond the intent of the original legislation.”
Accusing EPA of pursuing “an anti-carbon agenda,” he proclaimed: “I believe the EPA has to see itself as being responsible for our air and water and not take action which can prevent us from taking advantage of the extraordinary energy resources we have, such as coal, oil, natural gas.”
Politicians often criticize Supreme Court decisions, and sometimes they’re right. But not this time.
First, the irony. Romney is attacking the Supreme Court’s landmark 2007 decision in Massachusetts v.EPA, a case brought in 2003 by his own state while he was governor, challenging the Bush administration’s failure to curb dangerous carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. When the case reached the high court, the Justices ruled for the state and against the Bush administration, holding that it’s EPA’s job under the nation’s clean air law to safeguard us from pollutants that contribute to dangerous climate change.
Now Romney is echoing the losing arguments of the former administration, and attacking the position of his own state.
Oh, well. We already knew the Massachusetts governor was for curbing carbon pollution before the presidential candidate was against it.
So, did the Supreme Court go “beyond the intent of the original legislation”? Sorry, Romney, you won’t pass your law school exams with that one.
What the Court did is read and follow the plain words of the Clean Air Act. Don’t take my word for it; read the law and the Court’s opinion.
The Clean Air Act is no mystery. It says the EPA administrator “shall” issue “standards applicable to the emission if any air pollutant” from new vehicles “which in his judgment cause[s], or contribute[s] to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” It defines an “air pollutant” as “any physical [or] chemical … substance which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air.” To put the icing on the cake, the Act defines “welfare” to include effects on “climate.”
The Bush EPA tried to argue, much as Romney does today, that carbon dioxide was not an “air pollutant,” and that Congress didn’t really want it regulated.
But the Court found the law “unambiguous.”
The statutory text forecloses EPA’s reading. The Clean Air Act’s sweeping definition of “air pollutant” includes “any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical … substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air … .” § 7602(g) (emphasis added). On its face, the definition embraces all airborne compounds of whatever stripe, and underscores that intent through the repeated use of the word “any.” Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons are without a doubt “physical [and] chemical … substance[s] which [are] emitted into … the ambient air.” The statute is unambiguous.
The Act says EPA administrator “shall” set standards for an air pollutant if she determines that it “may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” “Shall” is the language of command and “welfare” includes climate. So, contrary to the Bush-Romney position, the Supreme Court readily found that EPA must make a scientific determination whether carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants pose a public health or environmental danger, and must set standards if they do.
Having confirmed what the law says, the Court explained why it makes sense. Earlier Congresses understood, the Court wrote, “that without regulatory flexibility, changing circumstances and scientific developments would soon render the Clean Air Act obsolete.” The broad language Congress used “reflects an intentional effort to confer the flexibility necessary to forestall such obsolescence.” In other words, Congress gave EPA the duty to stay abreast of evolving science, and the tools with which to respond when science identifies new pollution threats.
When the Court’s ruling came down, President Bush had the grace to acknowledge that it was “the new law of the land.” President Obama ordered EPA, working with the Transportation Department, to set new standards that will cut cars’ carbon pollution in half and double their fuel economy by 2025 – standards that will save Americans billions at the pump every year.
EPA has also proposed standards to limit carbon pollution from new power plants, the biggest carbon polluters of all. These standards will require new plants to cut their carbon dioxide to levels met by modern natural gas plants. The coal industry, echoed by candidate Romney, is crying that this “anti-coal” standard will block construction of new coal plants.
But here’s their dirty little secret: with abundant supplies of low-price natural gas, and big opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable power, no one is investing in new coal plants. Indeed, the Department of Energy, utility executives, and industry financial analysts all agree with EPA in forecasting virtually no new conventional coal plants for the next one to two decades. For this reason, EPA’s proposed standard is forecast to carry no economic costs.
The coal industry won’t face up to its own uncompetitiveness. It’s much easier for coal and its allies to scapegoat EPA and the Clean Air Act. And Romney is pandering to that crowd.
The Clean Air Act that the Supreme Court upheld was passed by Congress on overwhelmingly bipartisan votes and signed by Richard Nixon in 1970. EPA isn’t carrying out an “anti-coal agenda.” EPA’s just doing its job under the law of the land – to protect our health and well-being from dangerous climate-changing air pollution.