Over the next month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is asking you and me, we the public, whether or not it should do something about the biggest threat to the global economy, world security, and human health. Not bank failures. Not terrorism. This is climate change.
For those of us who have been heeding years of warnings from experts about the likely effects of climate change—more Katrina-like hurricanes to come, ever fiercer wildfires in the West, more droughts like the ones we've seen recently in the Southeast, more outbreaks of diseases like malaria, and world food shortages and crop failures—and wondering when our leaders will finally, take a lead on reducing carbon emissions, it feels like it's about time. Maybe it's even the right time. If we consider the warnings of scientists, like NASA's James Hansen, who say we have just four years to take action before the problem becomes unsolvable and irrevocable, maybe it's the only time.
On Thursday in Seattle, the EPA holds one of only two public hearings in the country on greenhouse gas regulation. (The first was on Monday in Arlington, Virginia.) The hearings have gotten little press, and word has spread primarily through the internet. Still, 1,500 to 2,000 people or more are likely to hit the streets for a midday rally outside the Seattle hearing. People are coming from as far away as Nevada and California to attend, and climate organizers tell me that the EPA is overwhelmed by the number of people signed up to comment. It's unprecedented. The hearing starts at 9 a.m., and was scheduled to end at 8 p.m. But there were so many responses that the agency had to extend the evening. It may run as late as midnight.
The hearings are the end of a process that began in 2006 with Massachusetts v. EPA, a case in which 12 states, from New Mexico to Massachusetts, joined New York City, American Samoa, Baltimore, the District of Columbia, and a long list of health and environmental groups and sued to require the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that "the EPA's steadfast refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions presents a risk of harm ... that is both ‘actual' and ‘imminent.'" When I read the ruling, I am struck by how decisively the court lays out the risks of climate change, calling the dangers "well recognized" and pointing to a "strong consensus among qualified experts" and "severe and irreversible changes to natural ecosystems." Even in the right-leaning court, the majority says climate change means monumental danger.
The court ruling forces the EPA's hand—it has to act, unless Congress does first. New legislation to regulate greenhouse gases, introduced by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), is moving rapidly through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. But already, Democrats from coal states are trying to weaken the bill and the timeline for emissions reductions.
Whether the regulation comes from Congress or the EPA, action needs to happen. It needs to be bold. It needs to hit scientific targets. It needs to happen now. That's what the ralliers will be saying this Thursday. They'll gather next to Elliot Bay, along a multibillion-dollar waterfront that may, according to scientists, be flooded by rising sea levels in years to come if our responses to climate change fall short.
Inside the hearing, the EPA will get an earful about why regulation is necessary—not only from environmentalists, but from Starbucks and Nike, local solar power and green building businesses, health advocates like Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Statewide Poverty Action Network, and churches, like the Evangelical Lutherans.
The EPA will also take written comments through June 23, 2009. If you want to make your voice heard, the instructions are here: http://epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment/downloads/Instructions-comments.pdf
If you live in the Northwest, attend the rally. Find information here: http://cascade.sierraclub.org/node/2113
For more about the public hearing, which will be webcast on Thursday, visit this link: http://epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment.html