According to a legal analysis from the Institute for Policy Integrity (PDF), the Waxman-Markey bill currently holed up in a Congressional committee isn’t the only way the United States might get a cap-and-trade system in the next year or so. In the wake of the recent ‘endangerment finding, the IPI analysts conclude that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has sufficient authority under the Clean Air Act to create a cap-and-trade system all by itself, without Congressional input:
If Congress fails to act, President Obama has the power under the Clean Air Act to adopt a cap-and-trade system that auctions greenhouse gas allowances. President Obama also has the power under the Clean Air Act to implement an executive agreement at the international level, rendering Senate approval of a climate treaty unnecessary. EPAâ€™s first priority must be to meet its legal obligations without impeding the work being done in Congress. But if Congress fails to act decisively, then putting those powers to use will be an essential stopâ€gap to avoid complete inaction on climate change.
While the threat is unlikely to be realized (the EPA would probably feel like they are overstepping themselves), it might be a useful stick with which to drive action in Congress. The Republicans on the relevant committee are all resolutely opposed to Waxman-Markey, but might find their thinking altered in the event that cap-and-trade became an inevitability, with the option of either their involvement in design or their total sidelining.
Incidentally, the fact that not a single Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee is considered likely to support the bill demonstrates what a dinosaur party they really are. The world is finally starting to move on climate change mitigation, with the United States playing a critical role in that development. To simply make themselves into obstacles – denying the science and obstructing the political process – demonstrates that the Republican leadership just doesn’t have a handle on what is arguably the most critical issue of the contemporary era.