EPA to regulate GHGs, or urge congress to act

It’s official, after years of inaction during the Bush era the EPA has finally responded to the the Supreme Court decision ordering the EPA to determine if GHG pose a threat to human health, and if so to regulate them under the clean air act.

In a decision that was two years in the making, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that it had reached preliminary findings that six greenhouse gasses endangered public welfare and that motor vehicles contribute to the environmental levels of four of these. The decision was required by the Clean Air Act, as determined by the US Supreme Court, but the Agency responded to the Bush-era decision with an extended period of inaction. The EPA is soliciting public feedback for the next 60 days, and will hold two public hearings before finalizing the decision.

As was reported on the EPA website:

After a thorough scientific review ordered in 2007 by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed finding Friday 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…

As the proposed endangerment finding states, “In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.”

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. 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 addition to threatening human health, the analysis finds that climate change also has serious national security implications. Consistent with this proposed finding, in 2007, 11 retired U.S. generals and admirals signed a report from the Center for a New American Security stating that climate change “presents significant national security challenges for the United States.” Escalating violence in destabilized regions can be incited and fomented by an increasing scarcity of resources – including water. This lack of resources, driven by climate change patterns, then drives massive migration to more stabilized regions of the world.

This opens the door for the EPA to regulate emissions of GHGs. Now personally I am not convinced this is a good thing. GHG reduction polices are incredibly complex and far reaching, and having unelected bureaucrats solely responsible for such policy seems irresponsible.

However I still think this is good news, as few things can spur congress to decide how to reduce GHG emissions, like the threat of having that decision taken away from them.

The more the Obama Environmental Protection Agency indicates that it’s simply going to regulate greenhouse gases on its own if Congress doesn’t move, the more Congress will feel pressured: After all, many fossil fuel companies won’t simply want to be left at EPA’s mercy.

As Representative Ed Markey (D – MA) puts it:

Do you want the EPA to make the decision or do you want your congressman and senator to be in the room drafting legislation? We think this is a helpful development. It focuses the minds of industry and congressmen and senators.

Of course the overly cynical might see this as an opportunity for Republicans to delay any GHG reduction bill in congress and force the EPA’s hand.

One argument in particular is interesting. Marlo Lewis, of the pro-business Competitive Enterprise Institute, figures the EPA’s ruling amounts to a “suicide note.” That is, far from prodding Congress to pass climate-change legislation, the new finding gives conservatives the perfect opportunity to sit on the sidelines and watch the Obama administration [EPA] jack up energy prices and generally derail the economy—and take all the blame for doing so.

But as the Wall street Journal notes, this raises an interesting question:

Even if that were true [and there is no indication that it is], that does raise a question: Has salvaging the economy really taken a back seat to scoring political points?

On a lighter note, in response to the EPA  decision Marc Morano sent out an email with the subject:

Humans Declared Toxic!

Referring to a blog post by Andrew Bolt.

Now I don’t normally agree with Morano or Bolt, but in regards to both of them I think ‘humans declared toxic‘ is right on the money.

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