EPA Should Let the People Speak

Published December 22, 2008

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wants to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from about 1.2 million new or expanded structures–up from the few thousand buildings it regulates now. The regulation would create a bureaucratic nightmare beyond imagination. The mere proposal of such regulation already has.

The formal comment period on the regulations proposed in the name of controlling global warming–most prominently carbon dioxide emission controls–closed last Friday (11/28). Even aided by an outside contractor, EPA’s bureaucracy was nearly paralyzed while attempting to process electronic comments from the public. EPA publicized out the wrong e-mail address, to which about 140,000 e-mails were sent. Untold thousands of them may still be floating around in cyberspace–EPA can’t say which ones have been received.

The alternative system for on-line submissions–EPA’s Web site–didn’t work. No one knows how many people tried to comment but couldn’t.

If EPA can’t handle 140,000 e-mails, it certainly won’t be able to handle 1.2 million permit applications from sources newly regulated under the proposed rule changes, which affect virtually every business and all large homes, which would be barred from building or expanding without a permit. Even EPA admits the permit system would be “overwhelmed” and construction across the nation would be delayed.

Anyone who’s ever had to take out a local building permit knows the complications that result from this process, which is simple and straightforward compared to what greenhouse gas regulation will entail. For that, each and every source will have to hire environmental engineers (average hourly rate: $150-$175) and lawyers (average hourly rate: $600) to navigate the permit system, which already takes years and costs several hundred thousand dollars per permit.

The ultimate problem is there is no cost-effective and market-ready technology for controlling carbon dioxide emissions. The U.S. Department of Energy is betting billions on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which is basically the large-scale equivalent of putting a baggie on top of your can of soda, made fizzy by carbon dioxide that is emitted as the soda warms up, and planting the bag underground. This technology is 10 to 15 years away.

The proposed regulations would cost trillions of dollars in new expenses. If you think the U.S. economy is reeling now; just wait until the Obama administration foists greenhouse gas regulation on an unwitting American public.

It would be one thing if man-made emissions of carbon dioxide were causing the climate to warm. But they are not. “The evidence clearly shows that the increase in CO2 has not produced a detectable increase in global temperature,” Dr. S. Fred Singer told EPA in his comments. Solar cycles and water vapor are more likely the cause, and there’s nothing humankind can do about those phenomena, wrote Singer, who is one of the world’s most respected and widely published experts on climate.

There is not a man, woman, or child who will escape EPA’s coming global warming regulations. A recent survey showed 80 percent of people around the world don’t want to spend extra money to reduce climate change. Yet untold thousands of Americans, among those polled, were prevented by bureaucratic incompetence from commenting on EPA’s costly proposed regulatory scheme by last week’s deadline.

This will forever taint the process, which may have been the public’s last opportunity to be heard. Before embarking on this gigantic regulatory boondoggle, EPA owes it to the American public to reopen the comment period and let the people speak.

Maureen Martin ([email protected]), an attorney, is senior fellow for legal affairs at The Heartland Institute.