EPA Makes it Official: Emissions Threaten Public Health

Acting under a Supreme Court mandate, the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) ruled today that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public
health and contribute to the harmful environmental effects of climate
change, paving the way for pollution regulations under the Clean Air
Act.

US_regulate_national_auto_emissions.jpg(Photo: TreeHugger)

"Today, EPA announced that greenhouse gases threaten the health and
welfare of the American people," EPA chief Lisa Jackson said at a press conference (audio available here). "We also found that greenhouse gas
emissions from on-road vehicles contribute to that threat."

The
EPA’s ruling, also known in Washington as an "endangerment finding,"
clears the way for the agency to play a role in implementing new auto
fuel-efficiency standards released by the White House in September.

Vehicles
are the No. 2 contributor to total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the
EPA said today, with electricity generation taking the top spot. "U.S.
emissions from on-road vehicles are also greater than the total
greenhouse gas emissions from every other individual nation, with the
exception of China, Russia, and India," the EPA said in a release on
its ruling.

But given that the "endangerment finding" has
been in the works at the EPA since the earliest days of the Obama
administration, what does today’s announcement mean for the future of
climate change legislation?

In the Senate, where a climate bill that would direct hundreds of billions of dollars to clean transportation remains mired in political maneuvering, Democrats aimed to use the EPA ruling to spur their slow process forward.

"The
message to Congress is crystal clear: get moving," Sen. John Kerry
(D-MA), the climate measure’s chief sponsor, said in a statement. Kerry
added:

If Congress
does not
pass legislation dealing with climate change, the administration is
more than justified to use the EPA to impose new regulations. Imposed
regulations
by definition will not include the job protections and investment
incentives we
are proposing in the Senate today.

If the EPA
ultimately steps into the emissions-regulating role that Congress aims
to play with its climate bill, there would be little chance of survival
for grant programs dedicated to funding transit, local land-use
planning, and other transportation planning goals.

In her own statement on the EPA ruling, Senate environment committee chairman Barbara Boxer said:

It is now clear that if we take our responsibility
seriously to protect and defend our people from this threat, the Senate has a
duty to act on climate change legislation that includes major components of the
work done by the Energy and Environment Committees.

Still, the next step in climate legislation is unlikely to occur before
January or February, when the Senate Finance Committee, headed by
environmental fence-sitter
Max Baucus (D-MT), is expected to hold its first votes on language that
determines how to distribute revenue generated from future emissions
limits.

(ed. note. More information on today’s EPA ruling, including information specific to auto fuel-efficiency, can be found here.)

  • David Galvan

    Very interesting! A great first step by the EPA, but I hope Congress gets its act together and pushes a bill through with a comprehensive plan for dealing with Climate Change. Regulating greenhouse gases under the The Clean Air Act is better than nothing, but that law was not written with all the nuances of global warming in mind. Also, a new piece of legislation put together by congress could include incentives to encourage people/businesses to get greener, whereas all the EPA could do is enforce restrictions, as far as I know.

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