WSJ: EPA to declare CO2 a public danger this week

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will early next week, possibly as soon as Monday, officially declare carbon dioxide a public danger, a trigger that could mean regulation for emitters across the economy, according to several people close to the matter.

Such an “endangerment” decision is necessary for the EPA to move ahead early next year with new emission standards for cars. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has said it could also mean large emitters such as power stations, cement kilns, crude-oil refineries and chemical plants would have to curb their greenhouse gas output.

The announcement would also give President Barack Obama and his climate envoy negotiating leverage at a global climate summit starting next week in Copenhagen, Denmark and increase pressure on Congress to pass a climate bill that would modify the price of polluting.

Science and the law drive policy in this Administration, unlike the previous one.


It was, after all, back on April 2, 2007, that 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 — see EPA finds carbon pollution a serious danger to Americans’ health and welfare requiring regulation. For more background, see New EPA rule will require use of best technologies to reduce greenhouse gases from large facilities when “constructed or significantly modified” “” small businesses and farms exempt.

The WSJ is reporting one change from the original EPA proposal:

Two people close to the matter who met with White House officials earlier this week said one change between the proposed endangerment finding issued earlier this year and the final announcement expected next week is the inclusion of the potential cost to society of no emission regulations.

Here’s more from the story:

According to a preliminary endangerment finding published in April, EPA scientists fear that man-made carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are contributing to a warming of the global climate. Senior EPA officials said in November the agency would likely make a final decision in December around the time of the summit.

Joe Mendelson, Global Warming Policy Director for National Wildlife Federation, said the endangerment decision, would happen at “absolutely the right time.”

“With House legislation passed, a bipartisan Senate bill in the works, and strong EPA action a virtual certainty, the president goes to Copenhagen with a very strong hand to play,” Mr. Mendelson said.

The EPA declaration would also ratchet up the pressure on U.S. lawmakers to pass legislation that analysts say would cut emissions in a more economically efficient way. Although the House has passed a climate bill, movement of similar legislation in the Senate has faced much more resistance and passage becomes more difficult in an election year.

The EPA’s Ms. Jackson and President Obama’s energy and climate czar Carol Browner have said they would prefer Congress to take action but are prepared to move ahead in the absence of lawmakers crafting their own law.

Industry experts say the Clean Air Act — under which the EPA is making its endangerment finding — was designed to regulate more regional and localized air pollution, and would be a much more blunt tool than Congress could craft. Critics, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say the endangerment declaration could spark a cascade of litigation and regulation that could harm the economy.

The EPA, meanwhile, says it would regulate in a sensible way. The agency has already moved forward on two rules that would guide regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions, primarily through a proposal to set the threshold level at 25,000 tons a year and requiring such large emitters to report their emissions.

If the EPA decided to move ahead with emission regulations for stationary sources such as utilities, new rules would likely be in place by 2012 and could set stringent emission standards to require firms to install the best available technology.

It remains vital that the administration pursue this less-than-perfect approach in the unlikely event Congress fails to pass the bipartisan climate and clean energy bill.

Kudos to the EPA and the Obama administration for following the rule of law — and science.

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