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Hot Planet, Hot Air

Our president is still stubbornly refusing to discuss a reasonable compromise on an issue critical to our future and security—global warming.

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I’ll admit it. Even I’m bored with this storyline. It’s been six and a half years of this stuff and we’ve still got how long to go? Yet here we go again. Our president, the leader of the free world—the most powerful nation not only on earth, but almost certainly in the whole history of the earth—is stubbornly, inexplicably, sullenly refusing to observe the law of the land as interpreted by the Supreme Court on an issue of critical importance to the future security and prosperity of the nation.

Bet you can’t guess what it is. Here’s a clue: it doesn’t involve Iraq, Walter Reed, Alberto Gonzales, or Paul Wolfowitz.

Did I win?

Last April, the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency “could not sidestep its authority to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change unless it could provide a scientific basis for its refusal.” In other words, we don’t care that you’re ideologically opposed to environmental regulation and, apparently, science, reality, etc. There’s laws and stuff that have to be enforced.

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, writing when the Supreme Court originally heard arguments last fall, characterized the case as “Bush v. Gore’s Movie.” Her piece offers a useful summary of the case, but here’s the thumbnail: During the Clinton presidency, the EPA interpreted the Clean Air Act to apply to the regulation of carbon dioxide emissions because it mandated the control of “‘any air pollutant’ that may ‘reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.’” But by the time their petition was heard, the Bush administration was in charge and denied an environmentalist petition to enact the regulation because they ruled that “scientific uncertainty” surrounded the issue of global warming.

So, Massachusetts, together with 11 other states, three cities, and a bevy of environmental groups took the Bush administration all the way to the Supreme Court. We return to Lithwick for a summary of the deputy U.S. solicitor’s defense:

“Now, maybe it’s because I have a toddler at home, but the EPA’s argument, presented by Deputy Solicitor General Gregory Garre, quickly sounds very familiar. 1) I can’t clean it up; 2) Even if I could, I don’t want to clean it up; 3) You can’t make me clean it up; and 4) China is making an even bigger mess. How come China never has to clean it up? When and if all that fails, the EPA, like my son, just puts its hands over its eyes and says there is no mess in the first place.”

When the court ruled 5-4 against the administration in April—over Chief Justice John Roberts’ objections that Massachusetts and the other states had no standing to bring the case to court, despite the potential loss of over 200 miles of coastline—editorial pages across the land emitted a cheer. Former Bush administration EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman penned an op-ed for The Washington Post applauding the decision and arguing in favor of market-based regulations on greenhouse gasses. (The National Review’s Jonathan Adler dissented, naturally, and criticized the decision for accepting Massachusetts’ standing argument and determining that the Clean Air Act does, in fact, allow the EPA to regulate air pollutants.

And then? Silence. EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson explained that the agency had no immediate plans to implement the ruling and that the decision was “complex” and “he did not want to be tied to a specific timetable.” (Heard that one before?)

Unfortunately, they’ll probably get away with it. The genius of this administration is that there’s malevolence at so many levels and in so many places simultaneously that no news organization can possibly keep up. Remember, the media can handle roughly one, maybe two master narratives at a time.

The New York Times wrote an editorial a day after Johnson’s comment decrying the “glacial pace” of Washington’s work stopping global warming. But beyond that, I haven’t seen much. A quick LexisNexis search for “Environmental Protection Agency” and “greenhouse gas” reveals nothing since April 28.

And what do we get instead?

Well, if you turn your dial to CNN Headline News, you’ll get a full hour of programming to the crackpot views of its own right-wing radio talker and self-described “rodeo clown,” Glenn Beck, for a program entitled “Exposed: Climate of Fear.” Shortly before the broadcast, the host had publicly compared Al Gore to Adolf Hitler and falsely warned that global warming activists want the United Nations to run the world and to implement a “global carbon tax.” (The program also followed up another Beck special, “Exposed: The Extremist Agenda,” which sounded the alarm about the dangers emanating from American Muslims.)

Although Beck’s special actually landed the network in last place during its broadcast, it nevertheless added credence to the view that journalism—even on CNN—cannot treat complex issues even remotely responsibly. Remember Beck was broadcasting long after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change termed the fact of global warming to be “unequivocal.” And yet the network somehow believed it legitimate to lend credibility to the same discredited, industry-financed conservative fantasists to whom virtually no reputable scientist any longer gave any credence. For some reason, CNN was willing to risk the reputation of its entire news division as it ignored the fight within the EPA.

Darn that liberal media…

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow of the Center for American Progress and the author of six books. His popular blog, “Altercation,” has moved from MSNBC.com to Media Matters. The new URL is http://mediamatters.org/altercation/.

Research assistance: Tim Fernholz

To read about the Center for American Progress’ policies on this issue, see:

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Eric Alterman

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