The EPA's Goldilocks Rule

As the means of communicating its administration of the nation's environmental laws to the public, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), Lisa Jackson, published an Endangerment Finding for the list of greenhouse gases, by Final Rule in the Federal Register, on Tuesday, December 15, 2009. This action has been widely discussed and commented on throughout the news and opinion media.   

As the poster child for these greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide has received the most attention, although methane, nitrous oxide, and certain fluorocarbons are included in the list of alleged greenhouse gases of concern. As thoroughly discussed in the media, the issues associated with regulating such a ubiquitous compound as carbon dioxide pose many problems. Carbon dioxide's overwhelming contribution is by natural sources, it is well mixed in the atmosphere, it permeates the entire globe, and it is inherently linked to our modern world. There is literally no human activity that cannot be controlled by regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. 

The U.S. EPA Endangerment Finding is complete with emotionalism, the clear and unmistakable marker of liberalism that many times substitutes reality to those with a liberal worldview. Within the overview of Ms. Jackson's Endangerment Finding is the following.

Finally, the Administrator places weight on the fact that certain groups, including children, the elderly and the poor, are most vulnerable to these climate-related health effects.

As a true-to-life caricature, it seems beyond the liberals' ability to stop themselves from throwing this final point into the mix of their scientific rationale: inferring a unique harm to children, the elderly, and the poor. As an apparent oversight in their mode of operation, minorities and those of alternative sexual proclivities and identities were somehow overlooked. We can only assume pending allegations of profiling and subsequent lawsuits from the ACLU on behalf of these overlooked protected classes.        

While the U.S. EPA allege that they know that current anthropogenic emissions are too great, they are unable to define what the appropriate or safe amount of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions or concentration within our atmosphere should be. Historically, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has been both greater and less than what we have today. The amount of man-made carbon dioxide emissions and the allegedly consequent temperature effect appear to Ms. Jackson subjectively -- as an analogy to papa bear's personal lifestyle in the Goldilocks fairy tale, it is just too big. It can then be assumed that the concentration of carbon dioxide that is just right can be discerned only by Ms. Jackson or subsequent Oracle-Administrators of the U.S. EPA. 

As a relatively recent example of a pollutant that does not fall under the U.S. EPA Goldilocks Rule, consider arsenic in drinking water. Currently, a clearly defined quantitative value of ten micrograms per liter (ug/l) has been deemed safe for drinking water, as determined scientifically through arsenic toxicity studies and assumed exposure assessments. Consequently, a concentration of arsenic in our drinking water in excess of this quantitative standard, according to the U.S. EPA, constitutes an unacceptable exposure. Unlike the quantitative example of arsenic, carbon dioxide as a pollutant appears best-evaluated qualitatively under the Goldilocks Rule. 

While the direction the U.S. EPA will fabricate to regulate the uniqueness of carbon dioxide is still unclear, the currently regulated air pollutants that appear most closely related to the issue of carbon dioxide arguably would be the current six "criteria" ones regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA). These criteria pollutants are particulate matter, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and lead. They are regulated through health-based or environmentally-based "criteria" -- in essence, science-based guidelines. 

It should be noted that these six criteria pollutants are still not a good match with carbon dioxide. The CAA and the regulation of these criteria pollutants are based on the control of pollutants locally from specific or area sources, or within a certain limited geographic area, and through science-based, quantitative human health or environmental protective criteria. This is not so for worldwide, naturally occurring, ubiquitous, well-mixed carbon dioxide -- which is what makes Goldilocks regulatory approach far more likely. 

Less noticed by the public previously was the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) that was published in the Federal Register on July 30, 2008, near the end of the Bush Administration. Within this ANPR, the mischief that would be created by regulating these greenhouse gases under the existing CAA regulations was thoroughly discussed. The then-administrators of many of the federal agencies weighed in on the notion of regulating the greenhouse gases under the existing CAA regulations. As best summarized by then-U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson in the preface to the ANPR, the following was offered.

One point is clear: The potential regulation of green house gases under any portion of the Clean Air Act could result in an unprecedented expansion of EPA authority that would have a profound effect on virtually every sector of the economy and touch every household in the land...I believe the ANPR demonstrates the Clean Air Act, an outdated law originally enacted to control regional pollutants that cause direct health effects, is ill-suited to the task of regulating global green house gases.

Not to worry; the Obama administration can be trusted with directing such a profound effect on our economy -- a regulatory regime that touches every household in the land. As the fairytale bedtime story begins: Once upon a time, a visionary promised the kingdom hope and change. Goodnight, America.

Robert T. Smith is an environmental scientist who spends his days enjoying life and the pursuit of happiness with his family.  He confesses to cling to his liberty, guns, and religion, with antipathy toward the arrogant ruling elites throughout the country.