Amid the self-destructive lunacy of the Environmental Protection Agency’s declaration of carbon dioxide as a pollutant that threatens public health and welfare, the New York Times reports this gem:

“As the E.P.A. begins the process of regulating these climate-altering substances under the Clean Air Act, Congress is engaged in writing wide-ranging energy and climate change legislation that could pre-empt any action taken by the agency. President Obama and Ms. Jackson (E.P.A. administrator Lisa) have repeatedly said that they much prefer that Congress address global warming rather than have the E.P.A tackle it through administrative action.”

Put aside for a moment that “compelling and overwhelming” science supporting the E.P.A. declaration is compelling only by virtue of the overwhelming political pressure behind it. Never mind that the actual science is sketchy and regulating carbon emissions will have little effect on carbon levels in the atmosphere but will have a dramatic, negative effect on the nation’s economy. The larger question for President Obama and Ms. Jackson is, “When did following the U.S. Constitution become optional?”

Article I section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States …” Simply stated and strictly speaking, Congress cannot delegate its legislative authority to executive branch bureaucracies, irrespective of what a president or bureaucrat might “much prefer.” A plain reading of the text of the Constitution defines legislative authority solely as a function of Congress, which President Obama somehow construes to mean Congress and/or the E.P.A.

The Constitution-when-convenient crowd will point to New Deal era Supreme Court decisions that chipped away at the non-delegation doctrine while ignoring that these cases rest on the holding that when Congress delegates legislative authority, it “shall lay down … an intelligible principle to which the person or body authorized … is directed to conform.”

What “intelligible principle” has Congress provided to the E.P.A. to guide its regulation of “heat-trapping” gases? What is the proper temperature of the Earth Congress is shooting for? What cost parameters must the new regulations meet? Who will bear those costs? “Stop Global Warming” is a bumper sticker, not an intelligible principle of conformance.

What will come of the dueling efforts of Congress and the E.P.A. to craft carbon emission regulations is some vague legislation out of Congress that shifts actual rule-making authority to the E.P.A. Congress can then take credit for acting on climate change and still blame the E.P.A. when it fails in the impossible task of altering natural climate conditions.

The founders’ clear intent was that Congress, the body elected by and accountable to the people, ought to make the law. Questioning the constitutionality of bailout legislation, which also fails the non-delegation doctrine test, Robert Levy of the Cato Institute notes that John Locke got it right in his Second Treatise of Civil Government. The legislative power, wrote Locke, is “to make laws, and not to make legislators.”

Even if one buys that carbon emission is a serious threat to human health and welfare, the claim of “crisis” does not make the Constitution optional. Neither do presidential preferences. That the Obama administration insists on making a mockery of science in pursuit of its collectivist policies is one thing; it must not make a mockery of our Constitution in the process.