EPA finds carbon pollution a serious danger to Americans’ health and welfare requiring regulation

In a landmark finding for America and humanity, the EPA “issued a proposed finding Friday that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare.” The ruling sounds the death knell for new dirty coal plants and should apply some pressure on Congress to pass climate legislation.

Note: everything you could want to know about this finding — including the 133 page finding itself and the 171 “Technical support document” — can be found on EPA’s website here.

“This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. Fortunately, it follows President Obama’s call for a low carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation,” said Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This pollution problem has a solution — one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.

As the EPA reports on its website:

EPA’s proposed endangerment finding is based on rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific analysis of six gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride — that have been the subject of intensive analysis by scientists around the world. The science clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate.

The scientific analysis also confirms that climate change impacts human health in several ways. Findings from a recent EPA study titled “Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on Ground-Level Ozone,” for example, suggest that climate change may lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant. Additional impacts of climate change include, but are not limited to:

  • increased drought;
  • more heavy downpours and flooding;
  • more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires;
  • greater sea level rise;
  • more intense storms; and
  • harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.


On April 2, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were pollutants and that the EPA would have to regulate them if they were found to endanger public health and welfare. Last month, EPA made its landmark finding: Global warming threatens public health and welfare. Today, following White House approval, the EPA made it official.

As Wonk Room notes, “Welfare” is defined in the Clean Air Act as:

All language referring to effects on welfare includes, but is not limited to, effects on soils, water, crops, vegetation, manmade materials, animals, wildlife, weather, visibility, and climate, damage to and deterioration of property, and hazards to transportation, as well as effects on economic values and on personal comfort and well-being, whether caused by transformation, conversion, or combination with other pollutants.

So for a science-based agency like EPA, this finding was 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 “). Of course, that didn’t stop the anti-science Bush White House from blocking such a finding for nearly two years.

What does this mean?

EPA will be able to develop and implement regulations to limit greenhouse gas pollution in major new sources to jumpstart the transition to a clean-energy economy. As Center for American Progress senior fellow Robert Sussman “” now the EPA senior policy counsel “” explained in 2008:

The Clean Air Act, for example, imposes emission performance standards on new major sources of pollution and modifications of existing sources with emission increases over a set threshold. It should be possible to limit these standards to large power plants and other facilities that are significant emitters of CO2, and to exclude smaller sources, such as the hospitals, schools, stores, and apartment buildings of concern to the president. And it should be possible to implement a trading system for large sources that provides flexibility and reduces compliance costs. That is not to say, of course, that large sources would be off the hook from controlling their CO2 emissions “” why should they be? “” but it does mean that meaningless requirements with no climate change payoff can be avoided.

It was already unlikely that many new dirty coal plants would be built in the next decade — because of renewable energy requirements, a big energy efficiency push by Obama, and the increasing likelihood of domestic climate legislation.


This finding gives the EPA all the authority it needs to block the vast majority of those coal plants until carbon capture and storage becomes practical and affordable — which is probably a decade away and possibly two (see “Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?”). Fortunately, we have more than enough replacements (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions” and below).

Kudos to Lisa Jackson and Barack Obama.

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