Avoiding economic suicide

A bill that would prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from placing limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and oil refineries passed the House of Representatives 255-172 on Thursday. Nineteen House Democrats joined in support.

The EPA is preparing to set limits on emissions of carbon dioxide from large sources, such as coal-fired power plants, under the Clean Air Act. The move is prompted by a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held increasing carbon dioxide emissions from human activity are causing climate change and the EPA must thus regulate those emissions.

(For the record, at 0.033 percent of the earth's atmosphere, carbon dioxide's "greenhouse" potential is slim. Nor is carbon dioxide "unclean." In fact, it's necessary to life on earth.)

Given that Democrats oppose the measure -- President Obama has threatened to veto it -- some may wonder why the Senate Democratic leadership allowed votes Wednesday on amendments also advertised as "preventing or delaying the EPA from taking action on carbon dioxide pollution."

The answer: Three of the four Senate amendments -- proposed by Democrats -- were designed to blunt public outrage over treating carbon dioxide as a "pollutant."

One proposal was to delay the EPA's ability to regulate CO2 for two years -- merely injecting two more years of uncertainty. Another amendment would have "permanently" exempted small emitters. But that would have done nothing to protect consumers from the vastly higher energy costs CO2 regulation would impose.

Those amendments got 7, 7, and 12 votes, respectively.

Senate Republicans instead backed the amendment proposed by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., which would prohibit the EPA from "promulgating any regulation concerning, taking action relating to, or taking into consideration the emission of a greenhouse gas to address climate change."

That got 50 votes, drawing support from four Democrats.

The U.S. economy could lose millions more jobs if Congress permits the EPA to continue down this path, according to Dana Joel Gattuso, director of the Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs at the National Center for Public Policy Research. Not even a worldwide depression permanently reducing global economic output and emissions to, say, 1970 levels, would stop harmless trace CO2 concentrations from rising over the next 90 years, Ms. Gattuso says.

What fans of these Draconian penalties on energy production really seek is an end-run around lawmakers' understandable reluctance to pass the administration's job- and prosperity-destroying "cap-and-trade" proposals last year.

What Congress needs to do now is to permanently prevent unelected bureaucrats from regulating CO2, with all the catastrophic economic consequences that would entail.

The measure OK'd by the House Thursday would be good. But Sen. John Barrasso, R--Wyo., sponsors the Defending America's Affordable Energy and Jobs Act, which would specifically "preempt regulation of, action relating to, or consideration of greenhouse gases under Federal and common law or enactment of a Federal policy to mitigate climate change."

That would be better.

The 305 members of Congress who stood up for sanity and economic progress last week deserve congratulations. Unfortunately, a handful of reactionary Senate Democrats and a single die-hard opponent of economic recovery at the far end of Pennsylvania Avenue, all clinging to long-discredited anticapitalism now disguised as "environmentalism," managed to block the road to economic recovery one more time.

But the enemies of prosperity are weakening.