Carbon Bills

The Hill's E2 Wire is reporting that a Senate vote on EPA carbon regulations won't happen until next week. Although the White House handed out some tepid reassurance that it would not sell the EPA down the river, it doesn't sound like the administration will jump to the agency's defense.

At the base of this conflict is the EPA program -- the last-ditch option for dealing with greenhouse gasses -- that tells carbon-spewing companies that they have to do something about it. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has a very straightforward and useful FAQ sheet on this stuff.

It's helpful to know, for instance, that the regulation is happening in stages: In the first stage, only projects that are spewing very large amounts of carbon and already require air pollution permits have to deal with their carbon problem. In the second stage, which doesn't start for a few months yet, projects that create carbon pollution but not other types of air pollution will have to start going through the permitting process. The EPA says this should only affect 550 sources of carbon pollution.

One thing Republicans like to point out is that the EPA regulations could require small business—restaurants, for instance—to go through the air-pollution permitting process. But the pollution sources that will need to get permits in this second stage aren't mom-and-pop shops or even small farms: They're solid waste landfills and manufacturers of products like cement and paper. Businesses that produce smaller amounts of pollution won't have to deal with the EPA for the next five years or so, so there's some time for the economy to get back on its feet and for federal and state regulators to figure out how they're going to deal with the logistics of this program.

EPA regulation may not be the best option for dealing with carbon pollution, but right now, it's the only one available, since Congress, in its wisdom, punted on cap-and-trade. Republicans like to complain about the high costs of dealing with carbon. But by doing nothing, the government is running up a different sort of deficit than the one Republicans are always so worried about. Carbon has a cost, which we will pay as temperatures rise and disasters increase. If we refuse to recognize that now, we'll just be running up a higher bill.