Obama walks in where Congress fears to tread
The refusal of the Flat Earth Caucus in Congress to do anything about pollution and climate change left President Obama with little choice but to use his own executive power to exert American leadership.
Mr. Obama has issued executive orders that will result in new regulations requiring coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, a key driver of climate change.
Consensus on that issue is un-achievable in Congress, where science deniers and proponents of the coal industry responded with hot air of their own. They complained that the Environmental Protection Agency does not have specific, legislatively granted authority to regulate carbon dioxide. But the Supreme Court found in 2007 that the EPA has authority to regulate all greenhouse gases. The president is right to exercise that authority regarding power plant emissions, which are 40 percent of the world's carbon dioxide output.
Critics also lamented that reduced carbon dioxide emissions won't offset those in China and India. But China, especially, is choking itself to death and ultimately will have no choice but to reduce emissions. Calling for the United States to lower the bar on the emissions is a curious position. Mr. Obama chose global leadership instead.
Some utility bills might rise as utilities retool or abandon coal-fired plants. But in Pennsylvania utilities already are making the transition to cleaner gas generation because it is cheaper.
For the long term, the policy kick-starts innovation, helping to create markets for clean fuels and energy-conservation technology. Other components call for international cooperation in developing and deploying clean-energy technology and resources to help communities plan and build in anticipation of climate change.
Ultimately, congressional consensus will be crucial to a broader attack on air pollution. Until that is possible, the president is correct to use his power to drive progress.