In America the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just ruled that greenhouse gases “threaten the public health and welfare of the American people”, and that they are pollutants that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Ho hum, so what? Quite the opposite. It isn’t clearly spelled out in much of the media coverage, but this is a real game changer.
What it means is that Obama no longer needs the approval of Congress to take action to reduce greenhouse emissions. Only Congress can enact new legislation (or Senate can ratify a treaty from Copenhagen), but as a result of this move Obama can take action under already existing legislation. He can make binding commitments at Copenhagen whether Congress / Senate like it or not:
The uncertainty of Senate action on climate has restricted the President’s ability to make firm commitments. But now the President can clearly say, I have the legal authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even if the Senate refuses to get its act together.
This is very smart politics from Obama. And I can’t imagine that he has arranged to untie his hands like this unless he damn well means to use them. Obama can now commit America to meaningful emission cuts, and show the real leadership that the world so desperately needs at Copenhagen. Gordon Brown is pushing for Europe to commit to 30% by 2020 (we need 40% Gordon!). Is this the turning point? For myself I can’t believe it until it happens. But if Obama does lead something significant at Copenhagen then he will have earned his Nobel Peace Prize, his place in history, and the thanks of us all.
Update: Since writing this last night my brief flash of optimism has faded to black. What a mess. Once again the rich nations of the world are conspiring to screw the poor. This could wreck the conference.