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From the Irony Dept: Tom Delay to Thank for EPA Emissions Authority

Take Tom Delay, the former congressional GOP leader with a longstanding hatred for the U.S. EPA and doubt about climate change, and figure out how, by six degrees of separation, he triggered the Supreme Court ruling that’s now giving Congressional Democrats leverage to push climate policy through Congress.

Does not compute, right? This is the guy who once called the EPA the “gestapo of government” and tried to virtually eliminate toxic waste laws during his Washington heyday in the 1990s. Well, the Obama administration energy czar, Carol Browner, drew the connection in six degrees at MIT’s conference on energy policy this week. Here’s how:

  1. Back in the 90s in a “squabble,” Delay asks Browner if she thinks the EPA has authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Browner doesn’t know, and decides to have the agency’s legal team look into it.
  3. EPA lawyers decide yes, the Clean Air Act probably does give this authority, and write a memo saying as much.
  4. Bush administration comes in and does not act on the memo.
  5. Massachusetts, joined by 11 other states, picks up the memo to strengthen its lawsuit against the EPA for not regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
  6. Supreme Court makes a landmark decision that the EPA has responsibility to determine whether or not emissions are dangerous, and if they are, to regulate them.

So here we are two years and one administration after that Supreme Court decision, and the EPA has just found that greenhouse gas emissions do, in fact, endanger health and human welfare, paving the way for that next step — doing something about it. Now lawmakers and industry groups against limiting emissions have a choice that, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Edward Markey put it yesterday, “focuses the mind” — either hash out an effective carbon-reducing system in Congress, or risk having the EPA do it autonomously. So thanks, Delay.

The video of Browner’s talk is posted here on MIT’s site. She tells the Delay anecdote toward the end, during the Q&A.

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