Carbon Dioxide, A Pollutant?!

Associated Press File Photo by Robert F. Bukaty

Associated Press File Photo by Robert F. Bukaty

I hear that the new administration of the EPA has pushed through a judgement that Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant to be regulated under the Clean Air Act.  While an analysis of CO2 as a pollutant had been forced by a suit against the EPA, the Bush Administration worked to slow the process as much as possible to prevent the potentially dangerous impact of such a judgement on the economy.  It seems that the Obama Administration intends to force the country into its environmental policy through a lesser-of-two-evils battle between EPA regulation and the notorious cap-and-trade legislation that the liberals are trying to push through.

Let’s first take a step back and look at carbon dioxide as a gas.  It is a linear molecule with two double-bonds, in the form (O=C=O).  It is heavier than air, and at normal atmospheric pressure, changes phase directly from a gas to a solid when cooled.   It is a common byproduct of the neutralization of carbon-containing acids and is, itself mildly reactive.  Carbon dioxide in water will produce a very weak carbonic acid, but the gas is not considered a source of acid rain.

Carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the atmosphere and comes from a number of sources.  As previously mentioned, it is a result of neutralization of carbon-containing acids.  It is also a byproduct of the combustion of carbon-containing fuels as well as the fermenting process.  Much more commonly, it is the product of respiration.  It is what humans, animals, fungi, plants, and all other oxygen-breathing cells exhale in the normal course of living.

Carbon dioxide is used in numerous ways.  It provides the carbonation in sodas and other ‘fizzy’ beverages.  It is also a gas commonly used in pneumatics and portable fire extinguishers.  In its solid form, dry ice, carbon dioxide is used to keep items cold for shipment and over long periods of time.

Carbon dioxide is also classified as a greenhouse gas.  Sunlight, comprised of the visible spectra and infrared and ultraviolet light on either side of that spectrum, shines on the earth.  When the sun shines on the earth, various layers of the atmosphere deflect or reflect some amounts of its emission spectrum.  What is not otherwise obstructed by the atmosphere reaches the surface of the earth.  That energy is converted into heat, a process which sends thermal infrared waves back up from the earth’s surface. Greenhouse gasses capture these waves and reflect them back to earth instead of allowing them to pass harmlessly into space.  The re-impacts of the thermal infrared waves effectively increases the warming effect of each initial piece of sunlight.

Obsessive coverage in the media and by environmental groups has led to the incorrect belief that the greenhouse effect and global warming are directly resultant from carbon dioxide.  This is actually not true.  Carbon dioxide is the second largest contributor to the greenhouse effect, representing less than 1/3 to less than 1/5 of the impact of the top contributor.  That lead contributor just so happens to be water vapor which, including its form as clouds, accounts for as much as 2/3 to 4/5 of the greenhouse effect.  Should it too be considered a pollutant?

The EPA’s classification of carbon dioxide as a pollutant allows for regulation under the Clean Air Act. The clean air act was originally passed in 1955 and has been amended numerous times since.  The most recent amendment came in 1990 when provisions were added for controlling acid rain and ozone depletion.  The legislation provides a basis for regulation of emissions of certain gasses in order to prevent additional harm to the environment.

What this, in turn, could do is force the issue on the President’s proposed cap-and-trade program.  It does this by removing the ‘no’ option, in that if cap-and-trade were to not make it through Congress, EPA regulations on carbon dioxide emissions would go into effect.  If cap-and-trade were to pass, maybe the EPA would back off on its own regulations.

On the other hand, the EPA is claiming that the new ruling would apply only to automobile emissions.  This means a further tightening of standards on car companies.  The irony here is that the government is at the same time propping GM and Chrysler up in order to keep them in business, and a major reason that they are doing so poorly is because they are forced (by emissions and fuel economy standards) to build lots of low-profit (or no-profit)  small cars that nobody seems to want to buy.  Essentially this move by the EPA will force the government to need to pump more and more money into these auto companies to keep them alive.

This goes to the bigger issue of trying to manage an economic crisis while furthering a liberal agenda.  The two don’t appear to go hand-in-hand.  The goal is to stimulate companies to be more successful, yet the government is squashing them under new regulations, further cutting into their profitability.  In my opinion, deregulation is the way to help stimulate the economy.  Let the free market dictate who makes what and how much people pay for it.  Speaking of the free market, I hope the government is planning a bailout program for the health/drug sector after this new ‘national healthcare’ program kicks in… but that is another topic for another day.

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