For Immediate Release
EPA Petitioned to Cap Carbon Dioxide Pollution at 350 Parts Per Million Under the Clean Air Act
WASHINGTON - The Center for Biological Diversity
and 350.org today petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to set national
limits for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air
Act. The petition seeks to have greenhouse gases designated as "criteria" air
pollutants and atmospheric CO2 capped at 350 parts per million (ppm),
the level leading scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of
"It's time to use our strongest
existing tool for reducing greenhouse gas pollution - the Clean Air Act. The
Act's provisions should cap carbon pollution at no more than 350 parts per
million," said Kassie Siegel, an author of the petition and director of the
Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. "For four decades, this
law has protected the air we breathe - and it's done that through a proven,
successful system of pollution control that saves lives and creates economic benefits vastly
exceeding its costs."
Last week, in advance of the
international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the Obama administration proposed
emissions reduction targets of just 3 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, far
below the cuts of approximately 45 percent necessary to get back to 350 ppm. The current atmospheric CO2
level is approximately 385 ppm.
The administration argues that its
hands are tied by the weak cap-and-trade bills passed by the House of
Representatives and under consideration by the Senate. Today's Clean Air Act
petition, however, demonstrates that the Obama administration already possesses
the legal tools to achieve deep and rapid greenhouse emissions reductions from
major polluters consistent with what science demands.
The UN's top climate scientist, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman
of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, endorsed reducing carbon in
our atmosphere to no more than 350 ppm. NASA's top climate scientist James Hansen has long
advocated the need to reach 350.
"The science, unfortunately, is all too clear - 350
ppm is the most CO2 we can have in the atmosphere if we want a planet
‘similar to the one on which civilization developed.' Around the world people
have rallied around that number, in what CNN called 'the most widespread day of
political action in the planet's history;' 92 national governments have endorsed
it as a target. Now it's time for the nation that invented environmentalism to
use its most progressive set of laws in the same effort," said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.
While the Obama administration is
moving forward to reduce greenhouse pollution from automobiles and smokestacks
under the Clean Air Act, two laudable and critically important steps, the
administration to date has failed to implement other important and legally
required provisions of the Act.
Today's petition seeks a national
pollution cap for CO2 and other greenhouse pollutants through a
central provision of the Clean Air Act requiring EPA to designate "criteria" air
pollutants, set national pollution limits for these pollutants to protect the
public health and welfare, and then assist the states in carrying out plans to
reduce emissions from major sources to attain or maintain the national
To date, EPA has designated six
criteria pollutants: particle pollution
(PM), ground-level ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur oxides
(SOx), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and lead. The petition seeks the addition of seven greenhouse gases
to the list, including CO2 with a cap of no more than 350 ppm, as
well as designation and caps for methane (CH4), nitrous oxide
(HFCs); perfluorocarbons (PFCs); sulfur hexafluoride (SF6);
and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).
Setting science-based national pollution caps for
these greenhouse gases would mark a critical step in the fight against global
warming and add more tools to the
Clean Air Act programs the Obama administration is beginning to
implement. A national pollution cap for greenhouse gases would also activate and
coordinate the efforts of all 50 states, all of which currently implement plans
for the reduction of the existing criteria air pollutants, and 38 of which are
already drafting or implementing climate action plans.
"The Clean Air Act is a bipartisan bill signed by a
Republican president. Leading scientists at NASA and around the world say we
need to get to 350 ppm. This petition simply asks EPA to do its job as science,
the law, and common sense require," said McKibben.
"Rather than perpetually wait for flawed and
inadequate new climate legislation before taking meaningful action, the Obama
administration can and must use the existing authorities under the Clean Air Act
to set a target of 350 parts per million to protect the climate and our future,"
The climate bill passed by the U.S. House of
Representatives, as well as legislation currently pending in the Senate, would
eliminate EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act to designate greenhouse gases
as criteria air pollutants and to set a cap on such emissions as requested in
to read the petition.
 The administration expressed its goal as a
17-percent reduction from the 2005 greenhouse gas emission level. The United
Nations and most of the world express reduction goals based on 1990 levels. A
17-percent reduction from 2005 is equivalent to a 3-percent reduction from
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 240,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
350.org organized the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet's history on October 24, 2009 when people in 181 countries at more than 5,200 events gathered to call for action on the climate crisis.