U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) broaches again the prospect of Congress initiating an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from mobile and stationary sources, saying failure to do so could lead to a “glorious mess.”

“I believe that a cap-and-trade program should be the cornerstone of a comprehensive climate-change program,” Dingell tells House colleagues during a hearing today on the strengths and weaknesses of regulating greenhouse-gas emissions using current Clean Air Act authorities, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dingell previously proposed cap-and-trade legislation, but the idea met lukewarm response from politicians in Washington.

Dingell currently is working on climate-change legislation aimed at trimming greenhouse-gas emissions 60%-80% by 2050.

The Congressman has said the legislation could include a cap-and-trade measure, although reports out of Washington say the topic could be brought up in the Senate this summer.

Cap-and-trade legislation would provide a way to reduce greenhouse gases on an industrial scale by capping total annual emissions and letting the market assign a monetary value to any shortfall through trading.

Credits can be exchanged between businesses or bought and sold in international markets at the prevailing market price.

But the EPA ruled late last year it would regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from mobile and stationary sources, including everything from cars and trucks to buildings and electric power plants, eclipsing the authority of individual states to regulate them.

California and more than a dozen other states intend to sue the government to reclaim their regulatory rights.

Dingell questions the move in his comments today.

“EPA may not have authority to adopt an economy-wide cap-and-trade program under the existing Clean Air Act,” he says. “If it does, EPA will have to make decisions, such as who gets how many allowances, that are inherently political decisions that should be made by an elected and accountable Congress.

“Structuring a comprehensive climate-change program is our responsibility,” he adds. “It should not fall to (the) EPA by default.”

Dingell claims Congress could expedite greenhouse-gas emission laws more quickly than the EPA, which recently delayed its rulemaking to seek public comment on the risks the pollutants pose to public health.

Dingell adds any attempt by the EPA to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions – including reviewing existing sources and issuing permits to new emitters – likely would cause endless lawsuits.

“We will have a fine array of lawsuits to bless us all with a huge amount of litigation,” he says. “If (the EPA) tries to (regulate), they will be ridden out of town on a rail and tarred and feathered and hung up by the end of a rope.”

The Congressman also reiterated his concern over multiple agencies with regulatory authority to limit greenhouse gases emitted from automobiles through enforcement of new corporate average fuel economy rules.

These include the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin., the EPA’s new authority under the Clean Air Act and attempts by individual states to regulate tailpipe emissions.

“We are beginning to look at a wonderfully complex world, which has the potential for shutting down or slowing down all industry and economic growth,” he says.

“There seems to be a developing consensus that what is needed is a cap-and-trade program by this nation to do what other countries in Europe and elsewhere are doing to see this matter is addressed in a comprehensive, exhaustive, thoughtful and intelligent way.”

Dingell says failing to allow Congress to enact climate-change regulation with cap-and-trade could “cause a fine economic mess and a splendid manufacturing and industrial shutdown.”

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) argues otherwise, telling Dingell, “We can deal with global warming under the Clean Air Act.”

Media reports suggest a climate-change bill from Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) and John Warner (R-VA), which also includes a cap-and-trade proposal, could be taken up by the Senate as early as June.

The bill leaves the legislative administration to the EPA and another regulatory body the agency would create.

jamend@wardsauto.com