WASHINGTON -- The federal Environmental Protection Agency declared that carbon dioxide -- which scientists have declared the main culprit in global warming -- and five other greenhouse gases that come from cars and many industrial plants "endanger public health and welfare," opening the door to regulatory restrictions under federal clean air laws.
The Associated Press reports that the Environmental Protection Agency is the first step toward requiring power plants, cars and trucks to curtail their release of climate-changing pollution, especially carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
According to the AP, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said while the agency is prepared to move forward with regulations under the Clean Air Act, the Obama administration would prefer that Congress addressed the climate issue through "cap-and-trade" legislation limiting pollution that can contribute to global warming.
Limits on carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases would have widespread economic and social impact, from requiring better fuel efficiency for automobiles to limiting emissions from power plants and industrial sources, changing the way the nation produces energy, according to the Associated Press story..
In announcing the proposed finding, Jackson said the EPA analysis "confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations" and warrants steps to curtail it.
While EPA officials said the agency may still be many months from actually issuing such regulation, the threat of dealing with climate change by regulation could spur some hesitant members of Congress to find another way to address the problem.
"The (EPA) decision is a game changer. It now changes the playing field with respect to legislation," said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., whose Energy and Commerce subcommittee is crafting broad limits on greenhouse emissions. "It's now no longer doing a bill or doing nothing. It is now a choice between regulation and legislation."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee responsible for climate legislation, said EPA's action is "a wake-up call for Congress" -- deal with it directly through legislation or let the EPA regulate.
Friday's action by the EPA triggered a 60-day comment period before the agency issues a final endangerment ruling. That would be followed by a proposal on how to regulate the emissions.
The EPA action was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling two years ago that said greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act and must be regulated if found to be a danger to human health or public welfare.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.