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EPA makes landmark finding: Global warming threatens public health and welfare

By Joe Romm  

"EPA makes landmark finding: Global warming threatens public health and welfare"

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has made its long-awaited “endangerment finding,” which will allow the agency, finally, to put a stop on greenhouse gases.

In Massachusetts [vs. EPA], the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases (GHGs) are “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act; that EPA must determine whether GHGs emitted from new motor vehicles do or do not endanger public health or welfare, or supply a reason for not making this determination; and that, if EPA makes an “endangerment finding,” it must issue regulations.

Yes, this is a no-brainer given what happens if we don’t restrict greenhouse gas emissions (see “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water “).

The Washington Post reported today:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s new leadership, in a step toward confronting global warming, submitted a finding that will force the White House to decide whether to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the nearly 40-year-old Clean Air Act.

Under that law, EPA’s conclusion — that such emissions are pollutants that endanger the public’s health and welfare — could trigger a broad regulatory process affecting much of the U.S. economy as well as the nation’s future environmental trajectory. The agency’s finding, which was sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget without fanfare on Friday, also reversed one of the Bush administration’s landmark decisions on climate change, and it indicated anew that President Obama’s appointees will push to address the issue of warming despite the potential political costs.

You can read about the likely timetable here (“DC to coal: You are a big danger to public health. Coal to DC: Kiss my ash.“). The next steps, according to an internal U.S. EPA document obtained by Greenwire (subs req’d) is:

… a three-week, inter-agency review led by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the document shows. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson then intends to sign the endangerment finding April 16, followed by a 60-day public comment period and two public hearings before the document goes final.

So what exactly does this decision ultimately mean for what EPA and team Obama can do restrict greenhouse gas emissions? Ultimately, the agency will be able to issue regulations that deal primarily with new sources of substantial amounts of greenhouse gas emissions — new dirty coal plants, this means you! (see “Obama EPA to act on global warming emissions from new coal plants“).

It also will apply substantial pressure on Congress to act:

Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said the EPA’s proposal would allow the administration to tackle climate change if Congress does not limit carbon emissions through legislation. He added that even if the EPA were forced to regulate greenhouse gases, it would target emissions from coal-fired power plants and then vehicles — which combined account for about half of the nation’s global-warming pollution — before requiring smaller operations to apply for new emissions permits.

“The way I see it, it’s, in case of legislative gridlock, break open the Clean Air Act,” Weiss said. “It’s a backup option, not ideal, but it’s a way to make progress on emissions reductions.”

Kudos to Obama and Jackson for taking this crucial step so quickly.

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13 Responses to EPA makes landmark finding: Global warming threatens public health and welfare

  1. Lewis says:

    So does this create a situation where it will be in the best interest of congress to be proactive on emissions or to wait for the EPA to be ‘draconian,’ come in and ‘save’ us from the tree huggers, and thereby create a grid lock by sending the matter to the courts?

  2. jorleh says:

    CO2 emissions endanger the public`s health and welfare insomuch as driving the whole species into extinction via climate catastrophe. Take it for sure, CO2 is no spice but a strong pollutant and killer.

  3. nsrig says:

    Holy smokes you mean car emissions arent good for people? who could have known? …maybe all the scientists that have been proving the same for decades.

    I think this admission goes a little beyone the major issue of GHG emissions destroying our livable climate, but down to the little people like myself who suffer from asthma induced by car emissions. As a child I developed asthma after moving from the country to the city close to a highway, (I have dry skin, associated with asthma and allergies) and immediatley developed the disorder. Now when Im exposed to car packed streets I have asthma attacks, and its been one of those things just adding to my unrest and dissapointment/duisgust towards the human race. Our governments complete inaction on the subject of car emissions affecting peoples health is just another in the long list of attrocities allowed by inaction. Hopefully this will give the obama administration another tool in changing the world, and I also hope EPA will make the knowledge of health risks of pollution available to people so they dont make similar mistakes that could affect their health for the rest of their life.

  4. ecostew says:

    And more EPA action:

    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

    EPA Acts to Reduce Harmful Impacts from Coal Mining

    Contact: Enesta Jones, 202-564-4355 / 7873 / jones.enesta@epa.gov

    (Washington, D.C. – March 24, 2009) The United States Environmental Protection Agency has sent two letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expressing serious concerns about the need to reduce the potential harmful impacts on water quality caused by certain types of coal mining practices, such as mountaintop mining. The letters specifically addressed two new surface coal mining operations in West Virginia and Kentucky. EPA also intends to review other requests for mining permits.

  5. Sasparilla says:

    Nice bit of news. Thank goodness we have this option to handle emissions, counting on the coal and oil black dems in the Senate to get something close to whats necessary done is a non starter. Hopefully Obama is serious about using this and its the end of new standard coal plants.

  6. pgilbert says:

    Where does aviation fit in the subject of global-warming pollution? The airline industry and the FAA are working very hard to expand the industry to a new layer of small regional airports. General aviation still uses leaded fuels!

    This industry and the FAA doesn’t answer to anyone. Why does this industry get a free ride?

  7. Craig says:

    Does this mean you will now have to do an environmental impact study, and get permits from the EPA, before you have children? (The lifetime carbon footprint of a first world baby has to be gigantic…..)

  8. Craig says:

    Craig,

    No it does not mean you’ll need permits to have children. It does mean the EPA now has a major tool to ensure the health of your child and future generations.

    p.s. I’m not having an argument with myself. We are two distinct and separate people.

  9. barryjo says:

    Jorleh: Where do you find that information? Anyone who understands biology will tell you that CO2 is NOT a pollutant but is absolutely necessary to life on this planet as we know it. That is: no CO2, no life.
    My gosh, Craig. It must cost a fortune to cloth, house and feed you both!

  10. ecostew says:

    barryjo, an excessive emission of GHGs is AGW-related pollution.

  11. jorleh says:

    ecostew: barryjo uses the routine idiocy of dirty black industry. Only we notice that we need natural insulin from Langerhans islands in pancreas: needle insulin into a healthy person some days only the same amount extra and we have killed the “patient”. But of course we don`t, because we are not know-nothing science deniers.

  12. barryjo says:

    ecostew and jorleh: The comment was about CO2 as a necessary component of life. That is SCIENCE. Nothing was said about “dirty black industry’ or “excessive emission of GHGs”. Whatever green house gases are.
    And why is it necessary to use terms like “routine idiocy” and “know-nothing science deniers” when responding to a statement of fact?
    I still haven’t found where science says CO2 is a “strong killer and pollutant”.

  13. Tom says:

    Just saw the news on CNN about how the EPA (through this new classification of CO2) is threatening Congress. Basically, the EPA is saying to Congress “Take action on CAP and Trade Legislation, or we will take action if you don’t.” Since when did the EPA run our government! Since when did our congress become irrelavent! Congress should not tolerate such threats, and immediately push a bill through to freeze all funding going to the EPA. The EPA is simply a government entity created and funded by congress, and can be eliminated (or at least made irrelevant by reducing its budget)just as easily through legislation. The EPA does not run the our country. Last time I checked there were only three branches of government that run the show, and the EPA wasn’t one of them!!