Cross-posted from Warming Law.

The Washington Post has been editorializing in favor of congressional action to address climate change for more than a decade, but an editorial Monday makes us wonder if they mean it.

The piece, entitled “Regulating Carbon,” bears a menacing subtitle:

The EPA is getting ready. Congress? Not so much. And that’s about to become a huge problem.

Actually, not so much.

The Post gets the first part of its editorial spot-on in stating that “[t]he most effective way for the United States to fight global warming is for Congress to put a price on carbon, either through a cap-and-trade system or, as we’d prefer, a carbon tax that rebates the revenue to tax payers.” Given that Congress has currently put climate legislation on hold, however, the Post explains that the EPA may soon start regulating carbon dioxide itself using its authority under the Clean Air Act — something the Supreme Court clearly said it could do in Massachusetts v. EPA (2007). We have argued that the possibility of EPA regulation serves as an important backstop on climate change, both because it will prod Congress to take action sooner rather than later, and because it provides a basic level of carbon regulation in the event Congress fails to pass anything at all.

The Post, however, doesn’t seem to have faith in this mechanism. In fact, it dismisses it, opting instead to assert the obvious:

The Clean Air Act … is breathtakingly unsuited to the great task of battling global warming. It would provide no economy-wide and declining cap on carbon, no market signal to industry or clean-energy investors that could spark innovation and greater efficiencies. There would be a thicket of red tape and regulations but nowhere near the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of the Waxman-Markey bill, let alone those called for by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The specter of EPA regulation is supposed to scare Congress into more rational action. Yet if Congress does not act, it’s likely that the EPA will. It won’t be pretty.

Not pretty? Is this some sort of beauty contest? As the editors of the Post surely know, no one — not President Obama, not EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, not members of Congress — has claimed for a moment that the best way to tackle climate change is via the Clean Air Act. Since last year’s campaign, the President has consistently stated that he would prefer a flexible, market-based cap-and-trade bill to address climate change, but that his administration would invoke its Clean Air Act power in the absence of such action. This would, of course, be the responsible and legally required thing for him to do. And some of the policies this approach would produce — like the already announced hike in CAFÉ standards — are long-overdue, good ideas.

Yes, we need a shiny, new, market-based system to trigger efficient greenhouse gas emissions. But advocates for such a system should resist the urge to trash the existing regulatory tools that will provide the leverage needed to bring this best-case-scenario into existence.