EPA: Greenhouse Gases Pose a Threat to Public Health and Welfare
April 22, 2009
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed finding on April 17, concluding that greenhouse gases contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. The finding opens greenhouse gas emissions to regulation under the Clean Air Act, although the Obama Administration has indicated a preference for comprehensive legislation to address climate change and to create the framework for a clean energy economy. The proposed finding identified six major greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. Carbon dioxide is the dominant greenhouse gas emitted in the United States, and it is primarily emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels. Efforts to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide will largely involve reducing the emissions from fossil fuel use, either by minimizing energy use through energy efficiency; switching to cleaner energy sources, such as renewable energy; or capturing and sequestering the carbon dioxide emissions.
The EPA's "endangerment finding" focuses on the impact of climate change rather than on specific regulatory proposals. It finds that climate change may lead to higher levels of ground-level ozone, which is harmful to human health, and that it could lead to increased drought, heavier downpours and flooding, more intense storms, more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires, greater sea level rise, and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife, and ecosystems. Although the endangerment finding does not include any proposed regulations, it does specifically call out automobiles as a source of greenhouse gases. The proposed endangerment finding is in response to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. It will be open to public comment for 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. See the EPA press release and the Web page for the proposed finding.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama was in Mexico and at the Fifth Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in mid-April, and he took two major steps to advance the response to climate change among the nations of North and South America. In Mexico City, President Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderón established the U.S.-Mexico Bilateral Framework on Clean Energy and Climate Change, which establishes a mechanism for political and technical cooperation and information exchange related to the development of clean energy economies. The bilateral framework will focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, green jobs, low-carbon energy technology development and capacity building, forestry and land use, and market mechanisms, as well as means of adapting to climate change. The framework will also focus on border issues. At the Summit of the Americas, President Obama invited countries in the Americas to participate in the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas, which is a voluntary and flexible framework for advancing energy security and combating climate change. See the White House press releases on the bilateral framework and the Summit of the Americas.