EPA's GHG endangerment finding sets stage for regulations

Greenhouse gases threaten the public’s health and should be regulated, the US Environmental Protection Agency said on Dec. 7.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 7 -- Greenhouse gases threaten the public’s health and should be regulated, the US Environmental Protection Agency said on Dec. 7. GHG emissions from on-road vehicles contribute to that threat, it added.

“Today’s finding is based on decades of research by hundreds of researchers,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. “The vast body of evidence not only remains unassailable; it’s grown strong, and it points to one conclusion: Greenhouse gases from human activity are increasing at unprecedented rates and are adversely affecting our environment and threatening our health.”

The finding follows a study that EPA undertook after the US Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that GHGs fit within the federal Clean Air Act’s definition of pollutants. It covers emissions of six gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride, according to Jackson.

It does not impose new requirements itself but allows the agency to finalize GHG standards proposed earlier this year as part of a joint rulemaking with the US Department of Transportation, Jackson continued. On-road vehicles contribute more than 23% of total US GHG emissions, and EPA’s proposed standards for light-duty vehicles, an on-road vehicle subset, would reduce GHG emissions by nearly 950 million tonnes and conserve 1.8 billion bbl of oil over the lifetime of model year 2012-16 vehicles, Jackson said.

She noted that both she and US President Barack Obama support reaching a legislative solution to global climate change, but added that it’s critical for EPA to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling and begin to regulate GHG emissions because they threaten public health. The agency issued proposed findings in April and received more than 360,000 comments during the 60-day comment period that followed, she said.

‘Politically motivated’
Oil and gas industry groups immediately criticized EPA’s action. “There was no compelling deadline that forced EPA’s hand on this decision,” said American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard. “It is a decision that is clearly politically motivated to coincide with the start of the Copenhagen climate summit. EPA’s finding is inadequate, unsupported by the record, and fails to demonstrate a significant risk of harm to public health or welfare.”

National Petrochemical & Refiners Association Pres. Charles T. Drevna, meanwhile, commented, “Individual American consumers and businesses alike will be dramatically affected by this decision that, frankly, is based on selective science, a weak legal and policy foundation, and a failure to account for numerous uncertainties and assumptions in the models it relies on.”

Drevna added, “This is yet another example of federal policymakers failing to consider the long-term consequences of a regulatory action for consumers and the economy as a whole.”

Congressional Democratic leaders said EPA’s finding makes it that much more urgent for Congress to pass climate-change legislation. “Those who fear EPA regulation of global warming pollution will find the answer in the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed by the House this year,” said US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).

“Now that the US government has officially ended its era of climate denial, the real endangerment to our planet comes from those who continue to deny the science and delay taking any action,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (Mass.), who cosponsored with Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry J. Waxman (Calif.) the bill which the House passed by seven votes on June 26.

Key milestone
US Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (Calif.), who cosponsored the Senate’s current primary climate-change bill with John F. Kerry (Mass.)—which the committee approved despite a boycott by Republican members—said the endangerment finding was a key milestone in EPA’s efforts to address global warming under CAA.

“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,” Boxer said.

Republicans were more critical. House Minority Leader John A Boehner (Ohio) said, “Today’s EPA announcement paves the way for Washington Democrats’ cap-and-trade national energy tax, a bureaucratic nightmare that would make households, small businesses, and family farms pay higher prices for electricity, gasoline, food, and virtually every product made in America.”

Joe Barton (Tex.), the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking minority member, said, “When scientists whose work is the bedrock for our global warming policy use words like ‘travesty’ and ‘trick’ to describe their actions, and banter about how they’ll blackball professional journals and delete evidence, it’s time to slow down and consider what we’re doing, not sound the charge. Regrettably, good sense got run over today when EPA hit the gas instead of tapping the brakes.”

James M. Inhofe (Okla.), the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s ranking minority member, said, “Today, the Obama administration announced an unprecedented rule, one that will have far-reaching implications for each and every America. The administration’s endangerment finding will lead to a wave of new regulations and bureaucracy that will wreak havoc on the American economy destroy millions of jobs, and force consumers to pay more for electricity and gasoline.”

Environmental organizations regarded the action more favorably. “As the major global warming summit begins this week in Copenhagen, this announcement couldn’t come at a more important time,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. “The Obama administration has followed through on its pledge to act and is demonstrating that the US has turned away from eight years of inaction under the Bush administration.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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