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EPA: Greenhouse Gases Pose Danger to Humans

In an interview with Gwen Ifill, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson explains the decision to declare greenhouse gases a danger to human health.

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    Just before she left for Copenhagen, I sat down with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson this afternoon to discuss the greenhouse gas decision.

    Administrator Jackson, thank you for joining us.

    LISA JACKSON, administrator, Environmental Protection Agency: Thanks for having me.


    In your announcement today about the dangers of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide, were you trying to get a jump on what you expect to be challenges in Copenhagen later this week?


    No, I think we wanted — we — I am proud of the fact that this was released in advance of the majority of the discussions at Copenhagen.

    And, so, certainly what I thought was important in the announcement was to talk about the science to the American people, to talk about the fact that the science leads you, really, to only one conclusion, and that nothing we have heard — and EPA's duty was to assess that science rigorously — changes our belief that the science means that greenhouse gases are pollution, and that pollution endangers public health and welfare.


    Senator John Kerry has said, if the EPA had to act, that would be a blunt instrument, and that it was preferable for Congress to do this instead, but the Senate hasn't acted.

    Would you prefer that the Senate had acted?


    I absolutely prefer that the Senate take action. And I'm hopeful that they will.

    I join the president in calling for clean energy and climate legislation. And that's because I think having economy-wide legislation sends an unequivocal signal to the private sector that we really mean it, that we're moving towards green energy.


    You say you really mean it. What is the practical impact of this kind of announcement today? Does — are sanctions imposed? Are limits now put on carbon-producing industries?


    None of that, but let me talk about a few things.

    First, today's announcement is really about a day in time, in 2009, when the U.S. government finally joined the world in acknowledging climate change and acknowledging climate pollution and what it can do to us as a people and to the world.

    But EPA has taken a lot of steps in anticipation of this kind of authority. This authority — this finding gives us authority. We have proposed and now finalized 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.

    Much has been talked about the new clean car rules. EPA has proposed rules. The president actually announced them in the Rose Garden with automakers and with labor and environmentalists to jump-start our move towards cleaner automobiles. And we are working hard on that.

    And much has been made about what this — what impact this might have on big sources, like power plants. And EPA has proposed a rule that talks about tailoring the Clean Air Act in ways to use it to enable regulation and moving forward in that industry.


    Let's talk about the skeptics. The business community, some segments of the business community are very concerned about this. They say it's going to make it more difficult for the economy to continue to recover.

    What do you say to them?


    I would say, nothing we have done so far — when I tick off this list of actions, from reporting, to car rules, and even the action that talks about stationary source reductions, none of that has been the doomsday scenario that we have heard from, from people who want to stop all progress on climate.


    The other skeptics — we have seen this debate this week about these e-mails which surfaced which seem to cast questions about whether data was being manipulated to make the case for global warming, for the argument that you are attempting to make.

    How do you say — how do you speak to people who look at this and still question the essential science behind it?


    I hope they will look at our action today as being a thoughtful one, in light of all the questions we have heard, not just in the last weeks about some e-mails, but, frankly, over years, about what the science really says and what consensus we should draw as policy-makers from it.

    One thing I like to remind people is that the e-mails talk about one set of data and how it is interpreted out of dozens of sets of data. And those sets of data have been used by hundreds, maybe thousands, of scientists around the world to reach all kinds of conclusions.

    So, there's nothing in that — those particular e-mails that change the underlying data. That was the essential question that we constantly asked ourselves during the development of this finding, and not just about these e-mails, but all along.


    Are you saying that, even if this particular body of work was manipulated, or if things were left out that could have been said about this case, that there is other information which is broader which counteracts that?


    That's exactly what I'm saying, Gwen.

    I'm saying that the, you know, knowledge out there, the data that is out there is vast. And these e-mails deal with a very small sliver of it. And the other thing I think the American people should know is that we are talking about U.S. scientists as well.

    These aren't — you know, if you read some of the press on the e-mails, you might think that most of the data that's out there is foreign data. There are U.S. scientists and U.S. organizations that have been collecting data as well, separate and apart. And all of that has been analyzed by scientists the world over.


    Does any of this lead us up to stricter standards now for vehicle emissions, for instance, something that would have a direct impact on an embattled sector? That's the auto industry.


    Yes, they do, but there are no surprises there.

    The endangerment finding is the foundation that allows us to then propose and finalize automobile emissions rules. Those rules, we worked on with the automobile industry, with the state of California, and with other states who are looking for cleaner cars, with labor unions, and with environmentalists.

    In fact, I think one of the most outstanding accomplishments we have had in the clean energy and climate space has been reaching an accord with those four disparate groups about what the autos of the future should be.

    They have already agreed they want to see these rules. And the reason they want to see it is because they want a road map for how to build cars. They know they are recovering economically. They just want one set of rules, so that they know the rules of the road.


    And, finally, as the president and as you head off to Copenhagen this week, what about your announcement today about the accumulated effort on the part of this administration do you hope to take there which convinces the rest of the world to get on board on — stay on board, in a way that they did not with Kyoto?


    Well, you know, I lead off a series of U.S. government officials who will be talking about various aspects of climate change.

    My session is entitled "Taking Action at Home." And we have so much to talk about. Here at EPA, we can talk about the rules we have done, about the emissions reporting, about the fact that, next year, Americans will be able to see what businesses are emitting.

    Then we can talk about the $80 billion in funding under the Recovery Act, much of which went through the Department of Energy, or we can talk about transportation with a renewed emphasis on light-rail, all these actions that this administration has taken in just 11 months to really jump-start not only our acknowledgment of the problem, but solutions for the problem at the same time.


    Administrator Lisa Jackson, safe travels. Thank you for joining us.


    Thanks for having me.

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