The Environmental Protection Agency sent a proposal to the White House on Friday finding that global warming is endangering the public's health and welfare, according to several sources, a move that could have far-reaching implications for the nation's economy and environment.
The proposal -- which comes in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision ordering EPA to consider whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act -- could lay the groundwork for nationwide measures to limit such emissions. It reverses one of the Bush administration's landmark environmental decisions: In July 2008 then-EPA administrator Stephen Johnson rejected his scientific and technical staff's recommendation and announced the agency would seek months of further public comment on the threat posed by global warming pollution.
"This is historic news," said Frank O'Donnell, who heads the public watchdog group Clean Air Watch. "It will set the stage for the first-ever national limits on global warming pollution. And it is likely to help light a fire under Congress to get moving."
But business groups decried the move as an economic disaster.
"By moving forward with the endangerment finding on greenhouse gases, EPA is putting in motion a set of decisions that may have far-reaching unintended consequences," said Bill Kovacs, vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Specifically, once the finding is made, no matter how limited, some environmental groups will sue to make sure it is applied to all aspects of the Clean Air Act.
"This will mean that all infrastructure projects, including those under the president's stimulus initiative, will be subject to environmental review for greenhouse gases. Since not one of the projects has been subjected to that review, it is possible that the projects under the stimulus initiative will cease. This will be devastating to the economy."
In December 2007 EPA submitted a written recommendation to the White House urging the Bush administration to allow EPA to state officially that global warming is a threat to human welfare. But senior White House officials refused to open the document and urged Johnson to reconsider, saying such a finding would trigger sweeping regulatory requirements under the 45-year-old Clean Air Act. An EPA analysis had found the move would cost utilities, automakers and others billions of dollars while also bringing benefits to other economic sectors.
EPA officials could not be reached immediately today for comment on the proposal.
Several congressional Democrats had urged EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson to move ahead with an endangerment finding on the grounds that it was scientifically warranted and would help push Congress to enact a national cap on greenhouse gases. Unlike President George W. Bush, President Obama backs such mandatory limits.
On Thursday Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said, "There is no question that the law and the facts require an endangerment finding, and it should happen without further delay, and I believe it will."