This is pretty good news. It’s important to note that the death of climate legislation does not mean the death of carbon regulation. It just moves it into a new phase, where the EPA takes the lead. And the Administration will protect that privilege:

President Barack Obama would veto legislation suspending the EPA’s plans to write new climate change rules, a White House official said Friday.

Coal-state Democrats, led by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W. Va.), Reps. Rick Boucher (Va.) and Nick Rahall (W. Va), are trying to limit the federal government’s ability to control greenhouse gases from power plants.

The coal-state proposals, which would block the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority for two years, would undercut what is widely seen as Obama’s alternative climate policy, now that Congress has punted on cap-and-trade legislation for the year. The Obama aide said the proposals won’t win the president’s signature if they managed to pass on Capitol Hill. Rockefeller’s bill is expected to reach the Senate floor at some point this year.

All those lawmakers who want Congress and not “unelected bureaucrats” to determine climate policy had their chance, and failed. So now, it’s the EPA’s turn. And I’ll bet energy interests aren’t going to like what they come up with as much as they like the opportunity to deal with a captured Congress.

While the courts will surely get involved in the EPA’s rulemaking, the EPA is merely following a 2007 Supreme Court ruling mandating that they regulate greenhouse gas emissions. So industry, Republicans and coal-staters can stamp their little feet all they want, but the White House will follow the law.

Good for them. Dave Roberts said the day the climate bill died that the EPA is basically the last hope, and the necessary outcome of a process where coal-staters refused to budge.

Protecting the EPA is now job one for progressives: Murkowski already tried to block EPA on carbon. Rockefeller’s going to try again shortly, and his bid is going to be even trickier to block than hers. The EPA’s ability to act must be protected. It won’t be as comprehensive, as economically efficient, or as socially cooperative as smart climate legislation would have been, but it will reduce carbon. And you know what? Senators from coal-heavy states have poorly served their constituents, so as far as I’m concerned, they deserve a big ol’ EPA boot to the ass. They made this bed, they can sleep in it.

It’s possible that industry will come back to the table with a new proposal. And while any Congressional legislation on carbon caps is dead, some demand-side measures like a renewable energy standard might get revived. While Senate Democrats wanted to block all amendments originally, that could be changing, and a few could sneak through. Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley and others in the Senate believe that they could get Republican support for a decent RES, beyond the pitiful one in the Bingaman ACELA bill.

But on carbon regulation, the EPA is king. And it’s entirely the fault of coal-state Democrats and Republicans who didn’t believe the threat credible. Well, tough. EPA will now become your worst nightmare, and you caused it.

UPDATE: A case in point: the EPA has just issued a ruling incorporating environmental justice into their rulemaking considerations. From the release:

“Historically, the low-income and minority communities that carry the greatest environmental burdens haven’t had a voice in our policy development or rulemaking. We want to expand the conversation to the places where EPA’s work can make a real difference for health and the economy,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This plan is part of my ongoing commitment to give all communities a seat at the decision-making table. Making environmental justice a consideration in our rulemaking changes both the perception and practice of how we work with overburdened communities, and opens this conversation up to new voices.”

That’s the new authority over GHG mitigation which Jay Rockefeller and Ben Nelson and the rest just empowered. Deal with it.