The EPA’s new coal-plant regulations are more “complicated and ominous” than a mere power grab, says Ramesh Ponnuru in Trampling democracy to fight climate change:
This isn’t a case where the executive branch has simply gone beyond its authority. It’s a case where officials in all three branches of government have found a way to achieve their policy goals while shielding themselves from accountability.
Congress sends bills to the president and the president signs them: That’s how major policy changes are supposed to work. But Congress has never passed large-scale regulations to combat global warming. It has never even voted to authorize such regulations…
He then succinctly sums up the case against this approach: under any reasonable scenario the costs are greater than the benefits and there is no global institution to enforce any global solution to a global problem:
There are good reasons to oppose these regulations. Mandating cuts in carbon emissions to fight global warming is a strategy that seems highly unlikely to pass a cost-benefit test. We would be better off trying to develop technologies to reduce the risks that climate change poses. And even if cutting emissions were the best way forward, getting the global agreement that strategy would require may not be possible. Even supporters of this strategy acknowledge that the developing world may not agree to carbon caps. The case for adopting regulations ourselves is that it will make other countries more willing to reach such an agreement. That seems like a leap of faith.
Then back to the small-d democratic problem:
For these reasons and others, Congress would never have passed these regulations explicitly. In 2010, when Democrats held a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a large majority in the House, they failed to get a major climate-change law to the president’s desk. That legislation probably had a better cost-benefit ratio than today’s regulations do. We’re imposing expensive but basically pointless rules even though Congress never really voted for them and never would have…
If you lose your job because of these regulations, how will you know who to blame, even if you follow politics closely? Which bums will you try to throw out of office? How will you go about trying to change things? We could well end up with a far-reaching, slightly bonkers policy subject to no real democratic review.
Even if the stakes justify these methods of making policy — and I don’t think they do — we should at least acknowledge the cost.