On Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized its study of a permit program designed to curb the release of greenhouse emissions. After evaluating the program for more than a year, the EPA concluded with a decision to delay the factory pollution permits to January 2011.
The permit is required for a new factory facility to be built or for an existing one to expand, both of which result in significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions. The decision, according to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, was reached in order to give “facilities the time they need to innovate, governments the time to prepare to cut greenhouse gases and it ensures that we don’t push this problem off to our children and grandchildren.”
As the national standard for regulation of environmental problems, the EPA’s inaction is quite disheartening.
In fact, it seems that it has become a game of sorts to decide on whether to appease businesses, legislators and environmentalists.
The current environmental crisis has the potential to incur wide-ranging, complicated consequences on the world’s climate. However, the process for regulating greenhouse emissions should not be as difficult.
This year, I participated on an environmentally focused alternative spring break trip, prior to which a professor from the Wrigley Institute spoke to us about climate change and what our apathy toward the environment has caused. I left the lecture slightly dumbfounded at his cynicism — apparently, the problem of climate change was so huge that even institutional efforts serve little purpose, so we might as well enjoy what nature we have left while we can.
I initially found our work on Orcas Island steeped in irony. In the interest of conservation, we were installing fire pits in the state park. But why have fire pits at all? Doesn’t it essentially encourage infringement on pristine natural grounds by allowing fires?
It seems that the state park, and others, have struck a compromise with the rest of us. Since families are bound to go camping anyway, however, there have to be regulations to prevent unsafe activities in the wilderness. Designated fire pits prevent wildfires by providing designated safe areas.
Likewise, the EPA knows that certain businesses — major sources of stationary heat-trapping gases — will inevitably spew large amounts of greenhouse gases by the nature of their work. Delaying the pollution permits in order to let them individually decide on emission curbing practices only exacerbates the situation.
At this point, it might be wishful thinking to hope the EPA will swiftly crack down on emissions, let alone hope for congressional legislation on global climate change to pass. For one, the buzzword “cap and trade,” as strongly endorsed in President Barack Obama’s initial budget, is tarnishing in value. Instead, the Obama administration hopes to move to more modest goals in order to make cap and trade legislation more passable for Congress.
Indeed, mandates, or at least regulations, should be put in place to change the game. Businesses will be driven by government or market incentives in any situation, and the EPA’s decision to delay the pollution permit regulation isn’t telling of its position as a so-called protector of the environment. It claims that successful emissions trading programs will “provide strict environmental accountability without inhibiting economic growth.” But those results, unfortunately, won’t be visible until at least a year’s time.
Until then, leaving it up to the facilities’ and governments’ discretion will not be the most effective, game-changing decision. At this rate, pushing the problem off to our children and grandchildren seems like a hopeful scenario.
Nadine Tan is a sophomore majoring in business administration. Her column “World Rapport” runs Fridays.