EPA: Greenhouse Gases Threaten Public Health

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on December 08, 2009 11:50 AM

On December 7, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency finally decided to get behind the wheel and drive. After nearly being run over by states like Massachusetts and California in a hurry to begin to curb the greenhouse gases that most agree contribute to global warming, the EPA is now on board. The Agency announced their in its Endangerment Finding, released yesterday, that certain greenhouse gases are pollutants that "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations."

This announcement as been quite a time in the making. In 2003, under the Bush administration, the EPA declined to act on greenhouse gases at all, finding it did not have the power to regulate them under the Clean Air Act. State lawsuits followed, and in April, 2007, a very conservative court came to a very farsighted decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. With Chief Justice Roberts, Anotonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito, Jr., vociferously arguing in their dissent that the plaintiff states did not have the right to sue over the greenhouse gases at all because they lacked standing, the majority written by Justice Stevens, found in favor of the states. The Court found the Agency "has the authority to regulate heat-trapping gases in automobile emissions." Further, the Court ruled that the agency could not sidestep its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change unless it could provide "a scientific basis for its refusal."

That case led directly, if at a speed comparable to glacier melt, to the EPA's Finding that greenhouse gases can and will be regulated by the Agency. What concrete steps will follow? Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, in speaking with the PBS News Hour's Gwen Ifilll, said that Monday's Finding gives the Agency the authority to take several steps. For instance, Administrator Jackson listed, "an emissions inventory. So, large emitters of greenhouse gases, starting January of 2010, now have to report. That information will be out there for the American people to see." Second, the "Finding will allow EPA to finalize the first greenhouse gas standards for new light-duty vehicles as part of the joint rulemaking with the Department of Transportation."

Although the EPA is now ready and willing to act, Administrator Jackson says that she does prefer and hope though, that change will come from legislation as opposed to agency regulation. 

For a timeline, outlining the slow but steady arc of the EPA's progress, go to: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment/downloads/EndangermentFinding_Timeline.pdf 

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