The Obama administration’s recently announced Clean Air Act power-plant rules, advertised as helping to control the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, have almost nothing to recommend them. Complex, clunky, and burdensome, they’re likely to spike energy bills while doing almost nothing to control pollution or stop global warming.

Despite some pleasant-sounding talk about flexibility and choice, as currently drafted, the rules offer states few options beyond heavy-handed command-and-control oversight of fixed source carbon-dioxide emitters (coal-fired power plants and the like). Even the awful Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill that passed the Democratic-controlled House in 2009 suspended authority to issue regulations like the ones the Obama administration has now imposed.

That’s why it’s more than a bit heartening that a few states are fighting back in a constructive way, one that neither accepts the administration’s bureaucratic meddling nor ignores greenhouse gas emissions. In language that only a bureaucrat could love, the Commonwealth of Virginia has asked that it be allowed to interpret “40 C.F.R. §60.21 and §60.24(b)(1) permit §111(d) emission guidelines to . . . devise broader, more creative, and more effective options to address compliance from affected [power plants] than now contemplated.” The EPA, Virginia says, should also “remove any doubts that novel approaches will be encouraged and accepted.”

In plain language, this is an important if cheeky request: If the EPA will allow it, Virginia regulators would like to kick the agency out for all intents and purposes and replace command-and-control regulation with a better system of its own devising.

Virginia is currently under a Democratic governor who implicitly accepts that the Obama administration is trying to confront a real problem, albeit in a ham-handed way. Thus, the Virginia approach isn’t likely to win many conservative plaudits. But if the EPA can be convinced to say “yes” and allow Virginia to go forward, it will present a path that turns a burdensome regulatory framework into an opportunity for policy innovation.

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