The Environmental Protection Agency formally declared that greenhouse gases are a pollutant that it can regulate under the existing Clean Air Act. And the timing of the announcement was no accident.
Before the President travels to the Copenhagen climate summit, the EPA and the White House are effectively sending the message: no matter what happens in Congress, America will cut its carbon.
The uncertainty of Senate action on climate has restricted the President's ability to make firm commitments. But now the President can clearly say, I have the legal authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even if the Senate refuses to get its act together.
Sen. Jim Webb sought to box Obama in last week, sending a letter saying, "I would like to express my concern regarding reports that the Administration may believe it has the unilateral power to commit the government of the United States to certain standards that may be agreed upon at the upcoming [conference] ... only specific legislation agreed upon in the Congress, or a treaty ratified by the Senate, could actually create such a commitment on behalf of our country."
News to Webb: Sure, Obama can't ratify a legally binding treaty by himself, but he absolutely can make a commitment to act under current law.
And making such a commitment will help considerably to extract similar concessions from other nations when he participates in final negotiations at Copenhagen next week.
Obama is also sending the message to Webb and other Senators on the fence that if they don't act, he will.
And special interests resisting legislation will surely prefer cutting deals with Senators than being subject to a completely free hand from the EPA. So the EPA move puts considerable pressure on the Senate to find compromises similar to what the House already struck.
Because one thing is clear. Under this President, America will be cutting its carbon, one way or another.
It's only up to the Senate to decide which way it's going to be.
Originally posted at OurFuture.org