coal

What’s in a rule? Everything and/or nothing. Who knows . . . yet.

Monday’s breathtakingly bold announcementrevealed that President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency will require electrical utilities to cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent over 25 years — though don’t get too excited. This proposed rule won’t even become a federal regulation until 2015.

But let’s start at the beginning. How does Obama do it? Where does he get the power and authority for this executive action? As Bureaucrat-in-Chief, of course.

But the politics of being Bureaucrat-in-Chief (ayy ayy ayy) are even more complicated than those for Legislator-in-Chief (these are the politics where Congress gets compared to a cockroach), let alone Diplomat-in-Chief (where, when the President fails or falls short, as in Syria, Iran, and Russia this year, he is quickly labeled a quitter, leading from behind, or a failure).

As Bureaucrat-in-Chief, Obama has breathtaking power to issue federal rules (known as regs). Once a rule becomes a federal reg, it could have a short shelf life or a long one, depending. And what it all depends on is a lot and/or a little.

Like most things in American government, it’s very complicated, since it’s all about the governance of federalism and separation of powers.

Then, when you throw in the politics of federalism or the war between and among the states, as well as the war between states and the federal government, or the separation of powers or war among the three branches — the executive branch including the judiciary, the federal bureaucracy, the White House, and all the independent and quasi-independent regulatory agencies in a hotly contested midterm-election year — it’s about the politics ofsabotage and posturing.

Obama’s rulemaking powers are breathtakingly bold, but so shallow that all we can do is throw up our hands and say: Who knows how it will all turn out?

What we can count on is that the dirty-energy industry will not give up without a fight if the EPA thinks it is going to reduce carbon pollution by 30 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2030. It will be caught up in the federal courts, all the while becoming, hopefully, a divisive issue separating the Republicans from the Democrats. In this case, the Democrats can say they are Ready for Hillary.