While the U.S. Senate remains bogged down in health care reform and unable to tackle proposed climate legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken the initiative, announcing its finding that greenhouse gases (GHG) threaten the public health and welfare of the American people, and paving the way for broader limits on carbon emissions even if Congress fails to pass a climate bill.
EPA’s final findings are in response to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that GHGs fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants and thus could be regulated by the Agency.
The findings announced today do not impose any emission reduction requirements but rather allow EPA to finalize the GHG standards proposed earlier this year for new light-duty vehicles.
On-road vehicles contribute more than 23 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. EPA’s proposed GHG standards for light-duty vehicles, a subset of on-road vehicles, would reduce GHG emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of model year 2012-2016 vehicles.
EPA’s endangerment finding covers emissions of six key greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride – that have been the subject of scrutiny and intense analysis for decades by scientists in the United States and around the world.
Coming on the first day of international climate change talks in Copenhagen, the timing of the announcement was clearly aimed at signaling a new sense of urgency on the part of the US to tackle climate change and make a definitive break with the policies of the Bush administration, which ignored the work of EPA analysts and thwarted regulation of greenhouse gases.
The announcement also sends a clear signal to Congress. President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have publicly stated that they support a legislative solution to the problem of climate change and Congress’ efforts to pass comprehensive climate legislation; however, if Congress fails to act, EPA appears poised to move forward on its own.
While initial EPA regulations will be aimed at restricting emissions of light-duty, on-road vehicles, the Agency has already begun developing new rules for power plants and other large industrial emitters.
Regulation of carbon emissions by the EPA is not without opposition. According to an article in the Washington Post that anticipated today’s announcement:
“An endangerment finding from the EPA could result in a top-down command-and-control regime that will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project,” Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. “The devil will be in the details, and we look forward to working with the government to ensure we don’t stifle our economic recovery.”
Business leaders warned that EPA regulations on greenhouse gases would be tied up in litigation for years and that the announcement was politically motivated to coincide with the opening of the international climate change summit in Copenhagen.
“This action poses a threat to every American family and business if it leads to regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Such regulation would be intrusive, inefficient, and excessively costly,” said the American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard in a statement. “There was no compelling deadline that forced EPA’s hand on this decision. It is a decision that is clearly politically motivated to coincide with the start of the Copenhagen climate summit.”
Prior to finalizing the finding announced today, the EPA conducted a 60-day public comment period and reviewed 380,000 comments.