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Copenhagen, EPA, and climate change: Obama's false move

The EPA ruling on global warming and carbon emissions is the wrong way to win over the Senate and to cut a deal in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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The climate-change debate in Washington and this week in Copenhagen, Denmark, isn't really about whether to act on carbon emissions. It is more about how to share the burden.

That's why the go-ahead by President Obama for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases as a threat to public health is so troublesome.

The EPA action, taken Monday, distorts the purpose of the 1970 Clean Air Act by setting up the executive branch, rather than Congress, to decide which emitters of carbon dioxide should pay the price.

The EPA's move would be similar to Mr. Obama trying to mandate universal health insurance for all Americans without waiting for Congress to act. Such a huge decision that sweeps across the economy and demands a balancing of interests needs a legislative solution.

Even EPA administrator Lisa Jackson was reluctant to push her agency's powers too far, knowing the EPA is ill-equipped to equitably spread the burden of curbing global warming. The climate bill passed by the House in November would have barred the EPA from taking such a step; the Senate is weighing a similar measure.

The agency is also on weak legal ground in interpreting a four-decade-old law that was never intended to deal with global warming. And its efforts might be hung up in courts for years, providing yet another excuse for Congress not to act. (Both businesses and some eco-activists are expected to challenge the EPA move.)

Letting the agency take the initiative also makes the effort against global warming vulnerable to a new president reversing its action in future years.

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