One of the most important events of our lifetimes may have just transpired. A federal agency has decided that it has the power to regulate everything, including the air you breathe.
Nominally, the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement last Friday only applies to new-car emissions. But pretty much everyone agrees that the ruling opens the door to regulating, well, everything.
According to the EPA, greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide -- the gas you exhale -- as well as methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. It is literally impossible to imagine a significant economic or human activity that does not involve the production of one of these gases. Don't think just of the gas and electricity bills. Cow flatulence is a serious concern of the EPA's already. What next? Perhaps an EPA mandarin will pick up a copy of "The Greenpeace Guide to Environmentally Friendly Sex" and go after the root causes of global warming.
Whether or not global warming is a crisis that warrants immediate, drastic action (I don't think it does), and whether or not such wholesale measures would be an economic calamity (they would be), the EPA's decision should be disturbing to people who believe in democratic, constitutional government.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court -- the least democratic branch of our formal government -- decided in Massachusetts v. EPA that the agency could regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. With this judicial green light, the EPA has launched its power grab over all that burns, breathes, burps, flies, drives and passes gas.
Yes, the head of the EPA reports to the president, which gives some patina of democratic accountability. Except the EPA is supposed to be politically autonomous, doing what it thinks best according to what President Obama calls "sound science." So the government bureaucracy is on its way to strong-arming the economy in ways Congress never imagined when it passed the Clean Air Act in 1970. Or the president has suddenly gained sweeping new powers over American life, in ways never imagined by Congress or the founders, and despite the fact that these new powers were never put before the voters.