Transcript: Thom Hartmann asks William Yeatman, why do conservatives want to defy the Supreme Court and stop the government from protecting us from dangerous pollutants? 09 Dec '09

Thom Hartmann: Thom Hartmann here with you and William Yeatman is on the line. He’s with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is their website. William, welcome to the program.

William Yeatman: Thank you so much for having me, sir.

Thom Hartmann: Pleased to have you with us. You’re an energy policy analyst I should say with CEI. The, back two or three years ago the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Act which brought into being the Environmental Protection Agency required that agency to regulate gases that are harmful to human health and that greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, because of their impact on the planet were ultimately harmful to human health and therefore the EPA had do regulate them. The Bush administration chose to ignore that, the Obama administration, God bless ‘em, is deciding to go ahead with that. And I understand that conservative think tanks like Competitive Enterprise Institute and organizations funded by the petroleum industry and their friends, patrons, and, you know, wealthy donors who make their money off of coal, gas and oil are quite upset about this. Why?

William Yeatman: Well, two quick points of clarification, actually three points of clarification. One: we’re, Competitive Enterprise Institute, we’re free market. So we’re a libertarian think tank, not a conservative think tank. We’re also, we’re not funded by oil interests. We were through 2005 but we’re so principled that they dropped us. I guess we were too toxic because we were demanding that they would turn…

Thom Hartmann: So you’re no longer getting money from foundations funded by people like David Koch, who…

William Yeatman: David Koch, definitely, but just not Exxon, not the oil companies like you said.

Thom Hartmann: Okay so you’re still getting money from the oil billionaires.

William Yeatman: Oh, please, please, and we’ll take as much money as they’re willing to give us to continue our efforts fighting for economic liberties. But the third point is that the legislation you alluded to, it wasn’t the Environmental Protection Act, it was the Clean Air Act.

Thom Hartmann: You’re right, thank you.

William Yeatman: And the Supreme Court ruled that, didn’t rule that the EPA had to regulate greenhouse gases, what it ruled, in Massachusetts vs. EPA, which is the aforementioned Supreme Court case, it ruled that greenhouse gases could be considered a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and therefore the Environmental Protection Agency could regulate greenhouses.

Thom Hartmann: But the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate pollutants.

William Yeatman: Well there’s actually a great deal of deference given to the administrative body on that particular issue. So it gave them three options which was to either declare, not necessarily regulate, begin the process by which you would regulate greenhouse gases by making it an endangerment finding, which is what the administration did on Monday, the Obama administration.

Thom Hartmann: Right.

William Yeatman: Or it could not make an endangerment finding but it would have had to issue a reasoning why. Or it could have outright delayed. Again…

Thom Hartmann: Right. Which is what Bush did.

William Yeatman: Which is… well the Bush administration, given that Congress, given that the author of the Clean Air Act, John Dingle, representative from Michigan, has stated on the record that the Clean Air Act was not written, remember it was written in 1970 back when global warming was not as of yet on the radar, that in no way was the Clean Air Act or any of its subsequent amendments meant, they were meant to regulate smog, particulate emissions and what not. It was not Congress' intent to regulate greenhouse gas emissions because it would create a complex regulatory morass. And we can talk about that a bit if you like. It’s fairly complicated but so…

Thom Hartmann: Well, we’ve got about four minutes here. Uh, but …

William Yeatman: If anyone were interested in learning about the ramifications of this rule making, please check out our website…

Thom Hartmann: Yeah, at But William, here’s the thing that I don’t get it. If, and maybe it’s just that you, I guess probably the bottom line is that you guys don’t agree that carbon dioxide and the other, and the chlorofluoric, the perfluorocarbons and the chlorofluorocarbons.

William Yeatman: All those syllables.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah, and the other four or five gases that are you know, part of this finding by the Obama administration. Those, the chlorofluoro-, the fluorinated hydrocarbons are the ones that are nuking the ozone hole as well as being greenhouse gases, that these things are somehow harmful to human health. Is that the point? Is that your position? That we shouldn’t care because it’s not a problem?

William Yeatman: Oh well, the position would be, and again I’m not a scientist, I’m a policy analyst. So I look at policies, I quantify the cost of policies and I compare those against the expected benefits. So the question that we would pose is given that Congress specifically said that the Clean Air Act, the author of this legislation said it is not applicable, should not be applicable, to greenhouse gases...

Thom Hartmann: Yeah, but what the author said is irrelevant. He’s, you know, it was passed by Congress and it was signed by the President.

William Yeatman: Well that was Congress' intent.

Thom Hartmann: And it wasn’t authored by one guy. No piece of legislation is.

William Yeatman: Henry Waxman indeed took, well many legislators did. But the point is we noticed that Congress’s intent was not to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Thom Hartmann: Sure.

William Yeatman: At what point do these policies become, at what point does the cost exceed any of the potential benefits. And those are the kind of questions we’re asking. We know that by regulating, by not having the legislators deal with climate change, however you know the people may so decide, by having the executive branch seize these powers that there are regulatory ramifications and there are costs inherent to that act.

Thom Hartmann: But those powers were given to the executive branch. In fact, the executive branch is required to exercise those powers by the Clean Air Act.

William Yeatman: Oh yes, sir. If I may interject they are not required. Again, deference is given to the administrative agency, in this question the Environmental Protection Agency. They can proceed or they cannot proceed, it’s up to them.

Thom Hartmann: Right, but if they… well okay, I’ll give you that. But here's… why, and I realize that there are some democrats that are quite hysterical about this too. They’re concerned that, and here’s the bottom line, is that if nothing comes out of Copenhagen, if nothing is done legislatively, if Congress is in gridlock, if you’ve got the entire Republican Party in the Senate, you know, all of the republican senators and probably ten or fifteen, at the very least four or five, democratic senators who are in the pockets of big oil, big coal, big gas and the fossil fuel industries, or those associated with them, and they are unwilling to pass any kind of legislation that’s actually gonna cap or regulate greenhouse gases, the only way that the administration can actually do something about this is through the EPA and they have the legal means to do this. And so, you know, what are you, I’ve heard rumors that there are efforts in Congress to strip the EPA of this kind of power. Is that what you’re suggesting?

William Yeatman: Well indeed we are. I mean remember, cap and trade legislation to deal with climate change has already passed through the House of Representatives and is pending in the Senate. So why not give the Congress, representatives of the people, an opportunity to act on this issue before the administration proceeds preemptively.

Thom Hartmann: Because, (A) because we’re having a crisis. (B) because cap and trade is just a giant gift to Goldman Sachs, it’s another gift to the banksters.

William Yeatman: I agree. I agree, well put and that’s exactly right. The point…

Thom Hartmann: and (C), we should simply, if we’re gonna say that carbon is a poison, then let’s put a tax on it, let’s do it the same way we do with tobacco.

William Yeatman: Well, I mean, we can debate on what the best way to weigh the cost and benefits of action or non-action, we can definitely talk about that. But in this instance we knew that proceeding down the regulatory path, it’s an unruly beast. We’re talking, I mean the EPA…

Thom Hartmann: But at least it’s a beast.

William Yeatman: Well again, we can discuss the cost and benefits but we do know it leads down a regulatory morass. A regulatory nightmare by which ultimately the executive branch would have almost unlimited powers to regulate both mobile sources and stationary sources under the Clean Air Act.

Thom Hartmann: Fine, you know, but at a certain level they’re also answerable to we the people. We’re talking with William Yeatman of Competitive Enterprises Institute, William, we’ve got a half a minute left. What, if we’re talking about the possibility of within a hundred years the end of human life on this planet, even a 1% chance, and I think if there was a 1% chance that an airplane would fall out of the sky every single day you’d never get on another airplane. If we’re talking about something like that, versus cost, why, how could any sane person even use a phrase like cost benefit analysis?

William Yeatman: Well, I would compare it, again, a 1% that humanity’s gonna end, I would say even that’s a gross exaggeration but again I’m not a scientist. From what my limited understanding, is that it’s not the case. Neither here nor there. But I would compare it perhaps to a nuclear catastrophe. How close did we come to the world actually ending in 1963 with the Cuban missile crisis? Did we shackle the economy, I mean necessarily to address that, what I would suggest is greater than 1% chance of humanity actually ending, no we didn’t.

Thom Hartmann: Well I would say actually yes we did, we had massive, massive military spending that… But that’s a whole 'nother. Okay, William Yeatman, You can read all about it over there. Competitive Enterprise Institute. Thanks William.

William Yeatman: Thank you sir.

Thom Hartmann: Good talking with you.

(Article: "CEI Will File Suit to Block EPA Endangerment Finding" by Christine Hall.)

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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