The timely usage of the EPA to help control carbon emissions was an absolute coup for President Obama and his team. After all, why wait for Congress and the Senate to agree on something that almost none of them understands? Plus the pressure on politicians from industry must be enormous, making it difficult for even the most environmentally correct to vote for change. Industry in the US is notoriously paranoid about having to clean up its emissions. So much so that George W. Bush actually took steps to weaken the Clean Air Act in 2005, so that coal-burning power plants (in particular) did not have to comply with lowering emissions. (He went against his own father, who had strengthened the EPA's mandate in 1990 to fight acid rain.) According to SourceWatch, in 2004 US coal-fired power plants produced 35.8% of total US CO2 emissions, and 8.0% of total world CO2 emissions. To put this in perspective, U.S. coal-fired power plants produced more CO2 in 2004 than was emitted by all sources in all of Africa, South America, and Central America combined, said SourceWatch.
The EPA option has been waiting on the sidelines since 2007 when the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act by not including greenhouse gas emissions. Obama's coup was to wait and take the EPA route just before the Copenhagen summit on climate change, where the US was destined to look like a giant polluting chump. I have my doubts that the EPA can effect immediate change, after all it took 23 years for it to phase out lead in gasoline due to pressure from Big Oil and Big Car. But it got there in the end. Obama's challenge now is to ensure the EPA remains a viable, well-funded and - above all - powerful organization.