Behold: The Godzilla of energy bills cometh

Henry Waxman wants to stop global warming. So why does his legislation explicitly state that greenhouse gases are not pollutants?

Published April 1, 2009 10:00AM (EDT)

The mother of all energy bills has finally made her debut. You can read the "discussion draft summary" of Henry Waxman and Ed Markey's "American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009" right here.

Anyone who was disappointed that Obama's cap-and-trade plan will not be part of the budget bill may take heart. Waxman-Markey's draft is in some crucial aspects considerably more aggressive than Obama's plan. Moving it through the legislative process will undoubtedly be a titanic battle, and I'm sure I'll have much more to say about it as the year goes along.

But one thing jumped out while scanning the summary:

Clean Air Act Exemptions. The draft provides that CO2 and other greenhouse gases may not be regulated as criteria pollutants or hazardous air pollutants on the basis of their effect on global warming.

At first I did not understand why the bill would explicitly stipulate that greenhouse gases are not pollutants. Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is anything but a softie, but this seemed like a preemptive capitulation to industry. It also seemed at odds with policies currently being pursued by the EPA. As the New York Times reported just last week, "The Environmental Protection Agency, about to declare heat-trapping gases to be dangerous pollutants, has embarked on one of the most ambitious regulatory challenges in history."

The move is likely to have a profound effect across the economic spectrum, affecting transportation, power plants, oil refineries, cement plants and other manufacturers.

It sets the agency on a collision course with carmakers, coal plants and other businesses that rely on fossil fuels, which fear that the finding will impose complex and costly rules.

But the same article also notes that "it may also help the Obama administration's efforts to push through a federal law to curb carbon dioxide emissions by drawing industry support for legislation, which many companies see as less restrictive and more flexible than being monitored by a regulatory agency."

Treehugger's Brian Merchant suspects a good cop/bad cop strategy.

Obama wants a federal law as well -- which may be exactly why his EPA is presenting a sort of better-of-two-"evils" scenario for polluting companies. Publicly touting the EPA regulation scenario should make coal, oil, and heavy industries much more inclined to accept his cap-and-trade system.

Or rather, Waxman and Markey's cap-and-trade system. Which makes me wonder: Is this a coordinated strategy between the White House and Waxman? Or just a lucky coincidence? Obama has the stick, Waxman has the carrot: One way or another, we're going to end up with some kind of concrete action on global warming.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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