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EPA Report Marks First Step Toward Climate Change Regulations

BY Brian Santalone  April 17, 2009 at 3:20 PM EST

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Photo by Gianluca Di natale/Flickr

The EPA action marks the first step toward imposing limits on pollution linked to climate change, which would mean tighter rules for cars and power plants. Agency officials cautioned such regulations are expected to be part of a lengthy process and not issued anytime soon. The report triggers a 60-day comment period before the EPA issues a final endangerment ruling.

Limits on carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases would have widespread economic and social impact, from requiring better fuel efficiency for vehicles to limiting emissions from power plants and industrial sources.

“In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem,” the proposed finding states. “The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it  endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.”

The finding is based on peer-reviewed scientific analysis of six gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride.

“The scientific evidence clearly indicates that atmospheric levels of the six greenhouse gases are at unprecedented elevated levels due to human activities, and that most of the observed global and continental warming can be attributed to this anthropogenic rise in greenhouse gases.”

The scientific analysis confirmed that climate change is a danger to human health and may lead to higher concentrations of harmful ground-level ozone.

“The impacts of climate change are increased drought, more heavy downpours and flooding, more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires, greater sea level rise, more intense storms, and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems … Over the 21st century, changes in climate will cause some species to shift north and to higher elevations and fundamentally rearrange U.S. ecosystems.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., whose Environment and Public Works Committee is considering climate legislation, said the EPA’s finding – stalled by the Bush administration — is long overdue but that “the best and most flexible way” to deal with the problem is for Congress to take action on a broader approach, the Associated Press reported.

“This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. Fortunately, it follows President Obama’s call for a low-carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said. “This pollution problem has a solution – one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.”

Jackson also noted that climate change has a disproportionate impact on the health of people who are poor, young, elderly, sick, disabled, living alone or indigenous.

The EPA’s findings also pointed out the national security implications of climate change. “Escalating violence in destabilized regions can be incited and fomented by an increasing scarcity of resources - including water,” the EPA said in a statement. “This lack of resources, driven by climate change patterns, then drives massive migration to more stabilized regions of the world.”

The EPA action was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling two years ago that said greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act and must be regulated if found to be a danger to human health or public welfare.

The Bush administration strongly opposed using the Clean Air Act to address climate change and stalled on producing the so-called ”endangerment finding” demanded by the high court in its April 2007
ruling.

The court case, brought by Massachusetts, focused only on emissions from automobiles. But it is widely assumed that if the EPA must regulate emissions from cars and trucks, it will have no choice but to control identical pollution from power plants and industrial sources.

“The (EPA) decision is a game changer. It now changes the playing field with respect to legislation,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., whose Energy and Commerce subcommittee is crafting broad limits on greenhouse emissions. “It’s now no longer doing a bill or doing nothing. It is now a choice between regulation and legislation.”

Congress is considering imposing an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions along with giving industry the ability to trade emission allowances to mitigate costs. Legislation could be considered by the House before the August congressional recess.