The question is not “to regulate or not to regulate.”

That was settled when the American people elected Barack Obama over his Republican rival John McCain in the presidential race.

Whether the topic is food safety reform, oversight of financial institutions or environmental regulations, it is safe to say this administration has a bent toward creating new regulations.

In fact, The New York Times reported in mid-February that the Environmental Protection Agency is soon expected, for the first time, to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

For those who have been on a remote island for the past 20 years, greenhouse gases are the ubiquitous vapors saddled with the blame for global warming.

EPA’s decision, expected by April, will create harsh new realities for transportation, manufacturing and the nation’s power grid.

As described in The Times, the back story of this issue is that the EPA has been under a Supreme Court order for more than a year to make a determination whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant that threatens public health and welfare. That was an order that the Bush Administration simply ignored.

If the EPA does rule that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant — and thus subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act — the net result, the story reports, “could be one of the most extensive regulatory rule makings in history.”

Could it make the country-of-origin rulemaking look like a first-grade reader? Probably, but COOL tweaking isn’t done yet (more on that later).

As for greenhouse gases, one expert quoted in the Times story said that under the U.S. clean air law, any source emitting more than 250 tons of a declared pollutant is subject to regulation. In the case of carbon dioxide, that language would cast a wide net and could include schools, hospitals, shopping centers, bakeries (thus, the Times story observes, some critics call it the “Dunkin’ Donut rule”) and, of course, produce operations.

Combined with the clear intent of Congress to leave fingerprints all over the climate change/global warming/carbon cap and trade realm, regulations and new laws relating to this issue will be one of the biggest stories in the next five years.

Even if the Obama Administration is dead set on regulating carbon dioxide, some are asking if trying to regulate climate change is really worth it.

Yes, some point out that it will be more expensive for America in trying to fight climate change than just letting it happen.

The fight against climate change is simply tilting at windmills, tugging on Mother’s Nature’s shawl or spitting into the south wind.

Plus, critics observe with more than a touch of fatalism, isn’t it too late anyway?

Haven’t the environmentalists said we have screwed things up so badly it is unlikely we can ever undo the damage?

One study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that if all carbon dioxide emissions were to stop today, we would still feel the effect of global warming for a thousand years.

The study, as reported recently in The Christian Science Monitor, found that, even as atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide decline, “the oceans, which are slowing down global warming by absorbing heat, will seek equilibrium with the atmosphere by re-releasing it.”

Given such an uphill battle, a study commissioned by the Western Business Roundtable found that a climate action plan promoted by several Western governors would “prolong the economic recession, weaken the already overburdened Western power grids and will deliver a temperature ‘benefit’ of only one ten-thousandth of a degree Celsius even after a century of operation.”

Consider me a skeptic of the global warming phenomenon and the need for heavy handed regulation and legislation, but I think piling on more costs on the energy markets, and in turn consumers, is an ill-timed move.

Karl Rove, former advisor to President George W. Bush, warns that President Obama has lost his deliberate precision he demonstrated on the campaign trail. Despite the impressive legislative victory on the stimulus bill, Rove said in a Feb. 18 column in The Wall Street Journal that “the fast start can’t overcome a growing sense the administration is winging it on issues large and small.”

Rove may have a point. He points to the inadequate vetting of Cabinet candidates, including Tom Daschle for Health and Human Services and Judd Gregg for Commerce secretary. He said the administration was pulling the stimulus “save or create” job numbers out of the hat, first citing 2.5 million then 3.7 million and then 4 million jobs.

I would add to Rove’s list what appears to be a bungled attempt to raise the bar on the country-of-origin regulations that was unfolding in mid-February.

With the matter of the stimulus settled, President Obama needs to slow down and carefully consider his steps, whether that path leads him to greenhouse gas regulation, country-of-origin labeling guidance or reform of food safety.

As Rove says, the days of “winging it” need to end, and end now.

Obama administration needs to slow down
Tom Karst
National Editor