US declares carbon dioxide a pollutant, moves to regulate

07 December 2009 20:59  [Source: ICIS news]

US declares CO2 pollutantWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared on Monday that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHG) threaten public health and welfare and consequently must be regulated by the agency.

In its long-anticipated action, the EPA said that “after a thorough examination of the scientific evidence and careful consideration of public comments” it finds that “greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare”.

That so-called “endangerment finding” opens the way for the EPA to begin regulating - limiting and otherwise restricting - emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

The US Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA has authority under that law to regulate carbon dioxide if the agency finds that CO2 and other greenhouse gases threaten public health. The EPA issued its proposed endangerment finding in April.

US business interests have argued, however, that the EPA lacks sufficient scientific basis to rule that CO2 is a pollutant within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.

The Monday ruling has the immediate effect of allowing the EPA to issue final standards limiting greenhouse gas emissions in new automobiles and light trucks, but critics said that the agency ultimately will expand its regulatory reach to control and limit CO2 emissions by refiners, chemical makers and the broad US manufacturing sector.

In anticipation of EPA’s endangerment announcement on Monday, business and industry officials voiced objection to the action, saying that the Obama administration lacked both scientific and statutory authority for the finding.

In addition, after the EPA announcement, the National Association of Manufacturers warned that the agency’s action “will have a cascading effect on the ability of all manufacturers to grow and prosper”.

“By declaring GHG emissions a threat to public health and welfare,” said NAM vice-president Keith McCoy, “EPA is paving the way to begin regulating carbon emissions across the board, including large stationary sources such as manufacturing plants, hospitals and libraries.”

Former EPA assistant administrator Jeff Holmstead said that Monday’s declaration by the EPA “also signals that the Obama administration is prepared to address global warming concerns without congressional action if necessary”.

However, Holmstead said, “for anyone who deals with the Clean Air Act, the big concern is that new construction will come to a standstill because of additional permitting and paperwork requirements”.

“It could result in profound consequences for the economy with little environmental benefit to show for it,” Holmstead said.

In earlier congressional testimony, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has conceded that US action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have no impact on global warming if China, India and other developing nations do not act to cut back their emissions, steps those nations have declined to take.

Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that the EPA made its final finding in the face of recent disclosures that call into question some of the science underlying global warming theories.

“It seems likely that the Obama administration decided to go ahead with plans to outlaw carbon dioxide today in order to make the president’s policies look good in advance of his visit to the Copenhagen climate conference rather than to advance any public good in America,” Barton said.

“Everybody also understands that the endangerment finding is supposed to prod Congress into resuscitating cap-and-trade legislation that is dying from overexposure to public scrutiny,” he added, referring to climate change legislation that has run into trouble in the US Senate after being approved by the House.

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