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EDITORIAL: Congress or the EPA? Who'll act on climate change?

More than the melting of glaciers or the rising of seas, the prospect of tough bureaucratic regulation may be what it takes to get Congress really moving on climate change. And the Environmental Protection Agency is only too happy to play that cue-the-scary-music role.

The agency has made a landmark decision that six greenhouse gases endanger the health and welfare of Americans. A key step was a 2007 Supreme Court decision declaring that the gases fit the Clean Air Act definition of pollutants. That led to an EPA study of the science and, last week, to the announcement of the endangerment finding.

Now the question is: How far will the EPA go in regulating these gases, including carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels? In passing the Clean Air Act in 1972, Congress gave the EPA broad discretion to follow the science. In a report this year, the Institute for Policy Integrity at the NYU School of Law found that the EPA can go very far, up to imposing a cap-and-trade system, like the one Congress is considering.

The House passed its bill in June, but the Senate is bogged down. Meanwhile, the EPA is moving forward. But even its administrator, Lisa Jackson, says it would be much better if Congress acted. Both lawmakers and industry would rather see Congress, not the EPA, making the broad decisions. Fine, but the legislators must act, or leave it to unelected bureaucrats. That choice should scare them into motion. hN