WASHINGTON - U.S. green groups
hailed Friday's formal finding by the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) that carbon dioxide and several other greenhouse gases "endanger"
public health and welfare as a landmark – if long overdue – step toward
slowing global warming.
They said the finding,
which gives the EPA the authority to regulate emissions under the Clean
Air Act, should add to pressure on Congress to enact its own
legislation establishing national standards and reduction targets as
early as this year, possibly before December's U.N. climate conference
in Copenhagen, the first formal effort to negotiate a successor to the
the Bush administration lagged, the Obama administration is now
leading," said David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club's chief climate
counsel. "There is no longer a question of if or even when the U.S.
will act on global warming. We are doing so now," he added.
long last, the EPA has officially recognised that carbon pollution is
harmful to our health and to the climate," said David Doniger, a
climate specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
"The heat-trapping pollution from our cars and power plants leads to
killer heat waves, stronger hurricanes, higher smog levels, and many
other direct and indirect threats to human health."
"Today's action is an important step toward making our climate and our planet safer for future generations," he added.
EPA's finding, which was announced by its administrator, Lisa Jackson,
after being cleared by the White House, marks the culmination of a
10-year administrative and judicial battle whose previous high-water
mark came in a 2007 Supreme Court decision that ordered the agency to
determine whether CO2 and other heat-trapping gases qualified as
"pollutants" under the Clean Air Act and rebuked the Bush
administration for failing to have done so. A number of states and
green groups brought the case.
Despite an abundance of evidence
and a virtually universal consensus among public-health experts - not
to mention climate scientists - that greenhouse gases were indeed
hazardous to human health and the ecosystems and climate on which it
depends, the Bush administration spent the remainder of its term
"studying" the issue without reaching a conclusion.
an Obama appointee, said evidence amassed by the EPA and its scientists
in support of the conclusion that CO2 and other gases - including
methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and
sulfur hexafluoride - constituted a danger to human health and welfare
that was "compelling and overwhelming" and that greenhouse gas
pollution is "a serious problem now and for future generations."
she added, "it follows President Obama's call for a low-carbon economy
and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate
Friday's finding sets off a 60-day comment period
during which the EPA will prepare regulations and the public and other
interested parties are invited to comment.
While Jackson did not
disclose details of the EPA's regulation plans, experts say the agency
will likely begin by setting national emission standards for new motor
vehicles first. Cars and trucks currently account for about 20 percent
of total U.S. greenhouse emissions.
The EPA is already
considering an appeal by California and 13 other states – denied by the
Bush administration – to set substantially tougher emission standards
for new automobiles than those set by the federal government. With
Friday's decision, some experts believe the EPA may adopt California's
proposed standards, which would cut greenhouse emission by 30 percent
in new cars and trucks by 2016.
The cash-strapped auto industry,
which has long opposed stricter fuel standards, insisted Friday that it
"share(s) the same goal as the administration in reducing emissions."
are hopeful that the Obama administration can find ways to bridge state
and federal concerns, and move all stakeholders towards an aggressive
national, fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions program administered
by the federal government," said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
automobiles, the EPA will likely move to regulate coal-fired power
plants, which account for about 40 percent of total U.S. emissions, and
other major emitters, notably chemical and cement manufacturers,
according to experts.
Manufacturing and other business groups
that may be affected by EPA regulations have warned that tough
governmental action now could make economic recovery much more
difficult and that they intend to challenge specific regulations in the
courts, arguing that the Clean Air Act was not, in the words of Karen
Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st
Century Energy, "created or intended for (the) purpose of regulating
greenhouse gas emissions."
"Any future regulations could impact
American households and large and small businesses," she said.
"Therefore, the business community has a vital contribution to make in
this debate and in detailing the consequences on our nation's economic
growth and recovery."
In her announcement, Jackson stressed that
the administration prefers that Congress enact comprehensive
climate-related legislation to relying on the EPA's regulatory
authority under the Clean Air Act.
A number of observers said
Friday they thought business interests, concerned that they would enjoy
less influence over the regulatory process, would also prefer Congress
to act, if only because they are likely to receive more favorable
Indeed, Greenpeace, which hailed Friday's
announcement, warned against precisely that possibility, noting that
the decade-long fight for regulating greenhouse gases had shown that
"industry will exploit every ambiguity, every gap and every loophole in
legislation to avoid real climate action as much and as long as
"We are optimistic that this decision will spur
Congress to adopt strong and comprehensive legislation this year to
stop global warming. But that legislation shouldn't replace existing
authorities under the Clean Air Act or other laws with new standards
that are potentially weaker," said Carroll Muffett, Greenpeace USA's
deputy campaigns director. "The ability to finally use the Clean Air
Act as one tool in our fight against global warming was hard won, and
should not be sacrificed lightly."
Obama has asked Congress to
adopt a cap-and-trade system to cap greenhouse emissions in key sectors
with the eventual goal of reducing emissions by 80 percent over current
levels by 2050.
Hearings on legislation recently introduced by
two leading Democrats, the new chairman of the House Energy and
Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman, and Edward Markey, that provide for
such a system and also include major investments in alternative and
renewable energy sources, are scheduled to begin next week. Its
sponsors hope it will be sent to the House floor by the end of May.