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[cdn-nucl-l] EPA Says CO2 Emissions Are Threat To Public
Is the biological carbon cycle also a danger to the public's health?
EPA Says Emissions Are Threat To Public
Finding Could Lead to Greenhouse Gas Limits
By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 18, 2009
The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday officially adopted the
position that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions pose a
danger to the public's health and welfare, a move that could trigger a
series of federal regulations affecting polluters from vehicles to
coal-fired power plants.
The EPA's action marks a major shift in the federal government's approach to
global warming. The Bush administration opposed putting mandatory limits on
carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, on the grounds that they would
hurt business, and the EPA had resisted identifying such emissions as
pollutants under the Clean Air Act.
What happens next is unclear. The agency's proposed finding is likely to
intensify pressure on Congress to pass legislation that would limit
greenhouse gases, as President Obama, many lawmakers and some industry
leaders prefer. But cap-and-trade legislation, which would limit emissions
and allow emitters to trade pollution allowances, is fiercely opposed by a
coalition of Republicans and Democrats from fossil-fuel-dependent Midwestern
states who fear that such a system would raise energy prices and hurt the
If Congress doesn't act, the Obama administration is likely to press ahead
with at least some curbs on carbon dioxide and other pollutants blamed for
global warming. While White House spokesman Ben LaBolt emphasized yesterday
that "the president has made clear his strong preference that Congress act
to pass comprehensive legislation," he indicated that the new scientific
finding may leave regulators little choice.
"It is now no longer a choice between doing a bill or doing nothing," said
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), co-author of the main House bill
establishing federal limits on greenhouse gases. "It is now a choice between
legislation and regulation. The EPA will have to act if Congress does not
Officials from the industries that stand to be most affected indicated
yesterday that they would rather help shape standards through the
legislative process than defer to federal regulators.
"It does provide a certain degree of incentive, if not leverage, to pass a
legislative agenda on climate," said Dave McCurdy, president and chief
executive of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and a former House
member. He added that while administration officials are hoping Congress
takes the lead, "they are assembling tools in their toolbox, and it should
be taken seriously."
The EPA's proposed finding -- which is subject to a 60-day comment period --
comes almost exactly two years after the Supreme Court ordered the agency to
examine whether emissions linked to climate change should be curbed under
the Clean Air Act. The finding makes clear that the agency views these
pollutants as threats to public health, the environment and national
"In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem,"
reads the finding, which identifies carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide,
hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride as contributing
to global warming. "The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it
endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act."
In her statement releasing the finding, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson
said that while global warming pollution is "a serious problem now and for
future generations," Americans can combat it without making a major economic
sacrifice. "This pollution problem has a solution -- one that will create
millions of green jobs and end our country's dependence on foreign oil."
A slew of business groups and Republican lawmakers were critical, saying
Congress is better equipped to determine how best to limit greenhouse gases.
Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), the top Republican on the House Committee on
Oversight and Government Reform, suggested that "this administration is
playing a game of chicken with Congress over regulations and our economy:
Either pass legislation or force economically damaging new regulations on
But activists such as Emily Figdor, federal global warming director for
Environment America, said the administration is simply recognizing its
obligations under the law. " 'Duh' may not be a scientific term, but it
applies here," she said. "EPA has embraced the basic facts on global warming
that scientists around the world have acknowledged for years."
While the White House took pains to play down the implications of the
proposed finding -- declining to say whether the EPA would be legally
obligated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions if it became final -- legal
experts said the agency would have no choice but to do so under Section 202
of the Clean Air Act.
"Once they finalize the endangerment finding, they have a mandatory duty to
regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks," said Roger
Martella Jr., who served as EPA general counsel under President George W.
Bush and is now a partner with Sidley Austin in Washington. "They have
discretion regarding the timing of that regulation."
Markey's panel will begin hearings on climate legislation next week, and
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has
pledged to pass the bill, which he co-authored with Markey, by Memorial Day.
While the Senate has not released a timeline for passing a cap-and-trade
bill, a senior Senate aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it
would move soon after the House began to act. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.),
who handles climate legislation as chair of the Environment and Public Works
Committee, said yesterday, "If Congress does not act to pass legislation,
then I will call on EPA to take all steps authorized by law to protect our
For the past few years, auto manufacturers have fought regulations adopted
by California and more than a dozen other states limiting greenhouse gas
emissions from vehicles, arguing instead for a single, national standard.
McCurdy, who said yesterday that his industry has already acted to reduce
its carbon footprint, said he hopes the administration can broker "an
aggressive, national, fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions program
administered by the federal government."
Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, said the
utilities his group represents could not predict how new and existing power
plants would be affected if the EPA regulated greenhouse gas emissions under
existing law. "This is a road we'd rather not go down, but only Congress can
steer things in a better direction," he said.
Environmental advocates indicated yesterday that while they support
congressional action, they see the EPA as a critical backstop in addressing
climate change. "EPA should initiate its regulatory process now because
we've got to get this nation moving," said Fred Krupp, president of the
Environmental Defense Fund.