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In the high-stakes game of chicken the Obama White House has been playing with Congress over who will regulate the earth's climate, the president's team just motored into a ditch. So much for threats.
The threat the White House has been leveling at Congress is the Environmental Protection Agency's "endangerment finding," which EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson finally issued this week. The finding lays the groundwork for the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions across the entire economy, on the grounds that global warming is hazardous to human health.
From the start, the Obama team has wielded the EPA action as a club, warning Congress that if it did not come up with cap-and-trade legislation the EPA would act on its own—and in a far more blunt fashion than Congress preferred. As one anonymous administration official menaced again this week: "If [Congress doesn't] pass this legislation," the EPA is going to have to "regulate in a command-and-control way, which will probably generate even more uncertainty."
The thing about threats, though, is that at some point you have to act on them. The EPA has been sitting on its finding for months, much to the agitation of environmental groups that have been upping the pressure for action.
President Obama, having failed to get climate legislation, didn't want to show up to the Copenhagen climate talks with a big, fat nothing. So the EPA pulled the pin. In doing so, it exploded its own threat.