EPA declares greenhouse gases endanger health of Americans
Ruling attempts to spur Congress to pass climate bill
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration took a major step toward imposing the first federal limits on climate-changing pollution from cars, power plants, and factories yesterday, declaring there was compelling scientific evidence that global warming from man-made greenhouse gases endangers Americans’ health.
The announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency was timed to build momentum toward an agreement at the international conference on climate change that opened yesterday in Copenhagen. It signaled the administration was prepared to push ahead for significant controls if Congress doesn’t act, though the White House said it would prefer legislation.
“This is a clear message to Copenhagen of the Obama administration’s commitments to address global climate change. . . . The message to Congress is crystal clear: Get moving,’’ said Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, a lead author of a climate bill before the Senate.
The House passed its version in June.
The EPA finding clears the way for rules that eventually could force the sale of more fuel-efficient vehicles and require plants to install costly new equipment or shift to other forms of energy.
Energy prices for many Americans probably would rise - though yesterday’s finding will have no immediate impact since regulations have yet to be written.
Supporters of separate legislation in Congress argue they could craft measures that would mitigate some of those costs.
Environmentalists hailed the EPA announcement as a clear indication the United States will take steps to attack climate change even if Congress does not act. And they welcomed the timing of the declaration, saying it will help the Obama administration convince delegates at the international climate talks that the United States is serious about addressing the problem. Obama will address the conference next week.
But business groups said regulating carbon emissions through the EPA under existing clean air law would put new economic burdens on manufacturers, cost jobs, and drive up energy prices.
“It will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project,’’ said Thomas Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, which in recent months has been particularly critical of the EPA’s attempt to address climate change.
Business groups have strongly argued against tackling global warming through the Clean Air Act, saying it is less flexible and more costly than the cap-and-trade legislation being considered by Congress. Any regulations from the EPA are certain to spawn lawsuits and a lengthy legal fights.
The EPA’s involvement in reducing climate-changing pollution stems from a 2007 Supreme Court decision declaring that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act. But the court said the EPA would have to determine if these pollutants pose a danger to public health and welfare before it could regulate them.
The EPA signaled last April that it was inclined to view heat-trapping pollution as a threat to public health and welfare, and began to take public comments for formal rulemaking.
That marked a reversal from the Bush administration, which had refused to issue the finding, despite a conclusion by EPA scientists that it was warranted.
The agency said that scientific evidence clearly shows that greenhouse gases “threaten the public health and welfare of the American people’’ and that the pollutants, mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, should be reduced, if not by Congress then by the agency responsible for enforcing air pollution.
“There are no more excuses for delaying,’’ EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said yesterday. “These long-overdue findings cement 2009’s place in history as the year when the United States government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution.’’