US steps up fight against climate change

The Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement Monday that it is going to regulate emissions that cause global warming has been expected ever since President Barack Obama took office.

The timing of the announcement sends a welcome signal at a crucial time. It comes as international momentum is building for the United States to take climate change seriously and lead to cut carbon emissions.

The EPA decision should bolster U.S. standing at the international climate change summit in Copenhagen, since other nations have justifiably accused one of the world’s top two greenhouse-gas producers (China is the other) of dragging its feet on reducing its carbon footprint.

It also will stir up a hornet’s nest domestically, as industries facing new regulations gear up to challenge them in court. And it will reverberate on Capitol Hill, just as the administration intends. The House has passed legislation that would cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and about 80 percent by 2050 through a cap-and-trade program. A similar bill is languishing in the Senate, where it faces opposition from most Republicans and some Democrats.

The Obama White House is giving the Senate a big nudge with the EPA announcement and is counting on business groups to pressure senators to act. That’s because industries, having by and large accepted that some form of climate change regulation is coming, prefer working with Congress to craft legislation that gives them more flexibility. Business groups claim that if the EPA writes the regulations according to the Clean Air Act they will be too rigid and too expensive.

None of this is going to happen quickly. The EPA rules-making process takes time. Big emitters don’t have to face the inevitable just yet.