EPA Decision ‘Obligates’ Action on Greenhouse Gases

BY Murrey Jacobson  December 7, 2009 at 9:41 PM EST
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As leaders from nearly 200 countries open a two-week summit in Copenhagen to work on a climate change treaty, the Environmental Protection Agency announced this afternoon that greenhouse gases are dangerous to human health, taking the first step toward potential new regulations on carbon emissions.

Gwen Ifill sits down with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on tonight’s program to discuss both the decision and its possible consequences. Jackson told reporters at a news conference a short time ago that the decision “authorizes and obligates” the EPA to reduce emissions.

The announcement accomplishes two Obama administration goals simultaneously: At a time when legislation is moving slowly in the Senate and faces its share of resistance, today’s decision makes clear that the White House is prepared to move ahead without Congress if necessary. It also allows President Obama to tell his counterparts in Copenhagen next week that the United States intends to get more aggressive about global warming.

“Legislation is the best way,” Jackson said during the news conference. “The reason is legislation is comprehensive. It can give business absolute certainty that we are on the way to clean energy.”

But she said the decision does not create an “either-or” scenario where either Congress passes new laws or the EPA issues regulations. “The Clean Air Act can complement legislative actions,” Jackson said. And it “means that we arrive at the talks in Copenhagen with a commitment to facing our challenge,” she added.

The EPA’s decision was spurred by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that the EPA must determine whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were dangerous to human health. Today’s action is a sharp departure from the Bush administration’s work on the issue and potentially could allow the EPA to issue tougher regulations on power plants, factories, automakers and other emitters of greenhouse gases.

The decision also comes amid questions and controversy over a series of emails that were stolen from a climate research center in England. The emails show some scientists deleting embarrassing emails, and critics argue that it shows researchers are making adjustments to data that do not favor their warnings about the perils of global warming.

Scientists have denied those allegations of manipulation. But given the controversy, Jackson was asked today whether the EPA should have held off on its announcement. She said no.

“There’s nothing in the hacked emails that undermines” the decision, she said. “This issue hasn’t raised new scientific issues which aren’t already addressed in this finding. The vast body of scientific evidence not only remains unassailable but grows even stronger.”
Environmental groups hailed the decision Monday.

“Today’s announcement shows that the U.S. government is serious about tackling this problem and putting limits on the largest sources of carbon pollution, including vehicles and coal-fired plants,” NRDC’s David Doniger said in a statement.

But some business groups and companies warned that the EPA’s action could lead to big problems for the economy.

“The U.S. Chamber supports rational federal legislation,” Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donahue said in a statement. But “an endangerment finding from the EPA could result in a top-down command-and-control regime that will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project. The devil will be in the details.”

We’ll have much more tonight during Gwen’s interview with the EPA’s Lisa Jackson.