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.