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Biden ready to slip Green New Deal through the back door

By Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

The Green New Deal will be upon us sooner than you think.

Not only is the Biden administration planning to roll out a host of climate initiatives on Earth Day (April 22, Lenin’s birthday). The White House and its allies are also in hot pursuit of regulatory means to transform the nation into the kind of green utopia recently experienced in Texas during its widespread blackouts.

Thanks to the work of the intrepid Chris Horner of Energy Policy Advocates, we now know that the Biden White House is colluding with 16 Democratic state attorneys general and a slew of green groups to aggressively use the Clean Air Act (CAA) to force the nation on a starvation diet of renewable energy, mostly taxpayer subsidized wind and solar power.

Horner has obtained emails, which he has shared with the Wall Street Journal, showing Democratic AGs consulting with a seasoned attorney on how the CAA can be used to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2). The exchange began in 2019, and the lawyer in question is Joe Goffman, a former Obama EPA official who is now, under Biden, at the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation. There, he is responsible for enforcement of the CAA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Now this gets a bit into the weeds, but, remember, the weeds provide cover for what they are up to.

Under the Clean Air Act’s NAAQS program, EPA is allowed to regulate six “criteria pollutants” deemed to pose a risk to human health: nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, carbon monoxide, ozone, and particulate matter. States must develop plans to meet EPA’s NAAWS standards if they are out of compliance with them.

Note that CO2 is not on that list.

As the climate-change debate heated up, green groups and their political allies sued to have CO2 and other greenhouse gases added to the list. In its 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the CAA’s general definition of “pollutant” covered greenhouse gases. But the court pointedly didn’t tell EPA how to regulated CO2. In truth, it’s almost impossible to regulate CO2; it’s generation locally is difficult to measure and it can persist in the atmosphere for centuries, where it mixes with naturally occurring carbon dioxide.

Nevertheless, determined to have EPA regulate CO2 emissions as part of their larger strategy to eliminate fossil fuels altogether, green groups petitioned the Obama EPA to name CO2 a “criteria pollutant.” In 2009, the Obama EPA did issue an “endangerment finding,” declaring greenhouse gases a threat to public health and welfare. But it chose not to make CO2 a criteria pollutant, because regulating CO2 emissions at the local level is almost impossible and would set the agency up for endless legal challenges. Instead, the Obama team tried to force states to reduce CO2 power plant emissions via EPA’s Clean Power Plan. But the scheme was blocked by the Supreme Court.

What to do?

The emails that have come into the possession of Chris Horner reveal that EPA’s Goffman and the Democratic AGs have given up on trying to regulate CO2 as a criteria pollutant. Instead, they want to go after CO2 under the guise of regulating ozone. One email participant referred to this as a “backdoor.” Tightening ozone standards would invariably target sources of CO2, such as fossil fuel combustion, motor vehicle emissions, and industrial emissions. In the regulatory bull’s eye would be things like gas stations, natural-gas-powered appliances, and internal combustion engines.

A Walk Down Memory Lane

We’ve been through this backdoor before – nearly a quarter of a century ago. In the mid-1990s, President Bill Clinton’s EPA Administrator, Carol Browner, pursued a highly controversial tightening of regulations on particulate matter (PM) and ground-level ozone. The primary sources of the emissions Broner targeted were transportation, industry (including power plants), and construction equipment.

Browner’s initiative coincided with the runup to the Kyoto Protocol, the first international agreement seeking to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was finalized in December 1997, and the U.S. was a signatory. But Clinton never sent the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent, because he knew he would never get the two-thirds vote (67 senators) required by the Constitution for approval. His EPA, however, went ahead with its stepped-up regulation of ozone and PM. But in going after ozone and PM, EPA also was targeting greenhouse gases, because the sources of PM, ozone, and greenhouse gases are largely the same. You say you are regulating A but you are also silently regulating B.

For Browner, who owed her position at EPA to Clinton’s VP, Al Gore, her regulatory coup was a twofer: Her new regulations threw scores of metropolitan areas in the U.S. into non-attainment with the CAA’s air quality standards (NAAQS), keeping them under the heel of EPA. And it was a way for EPA to regulate CO2 emissions through the backdoor of ozone and PM.

The Clinton administration never acknowledged its was curbing greenhouse-gas emissions – and with good reason. Its regulation of ozone and PM took place a decade before Massachusetts v. EPA allowed the agency to treat CO2 as a pollutant, albeit not a criteria pollutant. Acknowledging its regulatory sleight of hand would have been admitting it was breaking the law.

Like the earlier Clinton effort, the backdoor scheme Biden officials are cooking up will have no measurable effect on the climate. In fact, today’s atmospheric CO2 levels — about 420 parts per million (ppm) — have resulted in dramatic environmental improvements, especially for plant life. But the “climate crisis” of political fashion has nothing to do with the climate or the environment – and never did. It serves as a pretext for a giant power grab by global elites who are snugly oblivious to the harm their “solutions” to a non-existent problem will inflict on billions of ordinary people around the world.