Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pose a danger to the public. Although the Obama administration prefers Congressional legislation to address this issue, today's finding by EPA will trigger promulgation of regulations to regulate greenhouse gases. This puts pressure of Congress to accelerate consider of legislation, particularly because many believe the Clean Air Act does not provide the framework to support regulations. The low hanging fruit for regulation includes power plants, oil refineries, automobiles and cement makers.
Although the U.S. has refused to sign onto the Kyoto Protocol, there is pressure to act because greenhouse gas limits under a new treaty on climate change are scheduled to be addressed at a meeting scheduled for December in Copenhagen, Denmark. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold hearings a cap and trade program this month.
The EPA finding comes about two years after the Supreme Court found that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and that the EPA can regulate it. After a thorough scientific review ordered in 2007 by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed finding today that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. The proposed finding, which now moves to a public comment period, identified six greenhouse gases that pose a potential threat.
EPA’s proposed endangerment finding is based on rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific analysis of six gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride – that have been the subject of intensive analysis by scientists around the world. The science clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate. The scientific analysis also confirms that climate change impacts human health in several ways.
In ruling that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, the 133-page endangerment finding summarizes the scientific evidence on climate change and and concludes:
"The case for finding that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere endanger public health and welfare is compelling and, indeed, overwhelming. This is not a close case in which the magnitude of the harm is small and the probability great, or the magnitude large and the probability small. In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem."Findings from a recent EPA study titled “Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on Ground-Level Ozone,” for example, suggest that climate change may lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant. Additional impacts of climate change include, but are not limited to:
· increased drought;
· more heavy downpours and flooding;
· more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires;
· greater sea level rise;
· more intense storms; and
· harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.
In proposing the finding, Administrator Jackson also took into account the disproportionate impact climate change has on the health of certain segments of the population, such as the poor, the very young, the elderly, those already in poor health, the disabled, those living alone and/or indigenous populations dependent on one or a few resources. In addition to threatening human health, the analysis finds that climate change also has serious national security implications.
The proposed endangerment finding now enters the public comment period, which is the next step in the deliberative process EPA must undertake before issuing final findings. Today’s proposed finding does not include any proposed regulations. Before taking any steps to reduce greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, EPA would conduct an appropriate process and consider stakeholder input. Notwithstanding this required regulatory process, both President Obama and Administrator Jackson have repeatedly indicated their preference for comprehensive legislation to address this issue and create the framework for a clean energy economy. (EPA, WSJ, 4/17/09)