History is made as US EPA finds heat-trapping gases endanger human health and welfare

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Lisa Jackson, head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, today issued the following Endangerment finding:  “The Administrator finds that six greenhouse gases taken in combination endanger both the public health and the public welfare of current and future generations.”  The conclusion, based on sound science carefully developed under both Democratic and Republican leadership, clears the path for US regulation of CO2 emissions, regardless of what is negotiated in Copenhagen. 

Nearly three years after the US Supreme Court found that carbon dioxide could be defined as an air pollutant subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act, the US Environmental Protection Agency has completed a key prerequisite to opening the door to regulating emissions of six different greenhouse gases (CO2 being the primary one).  With a proposed rule on light-duty vehicles waiting in the wings, the agency issued today—opening day for the climate talks in Copenhagen—its “endangerment finding” concluding that GHGs pose a threat to both public health and welfare, tests required under the Clean Air Act in order to regulate emissions from point sources, such as power plants, manufacturing plants, and vehicles.   

“The overwhelming amount of scientific studies show that the threat is real,” proclaimed Jackson in a media announcement this afternoon.

Watch AP’s coverage of the announcement on YouTube:

Here are the key links; CSW will provide commentary in a subsequent post. 

US EPA’s endangerment finding website

Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act  (284 pages, .pdf)

Technical Support Document for the Findings  (210 pages, .pdf)

Administrator Jackson’s prepared remarks

EPA’s December 7 Press Release

EPA: Greenhouse Gases Threaten Public Health and the Environment

Science overwhelmingly shows greenhouse gas concentrations at unprecedented levels due to human activity

Release date: 12/07/2009

WASHINGTON – After a thorough examination of the scientific evidence and careful consideration of public comments, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten the public health and welfare of the American people. EPA also finds that GHG emissions from on-road vehicles contribute to that threat.

GHGs are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor or elderly; increases in ground-level ozone pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses; as well as other threats to the health and welfare of Americans.

“These long-overdue findings cement 2009’s place in history as the year when the United States Government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Business leaders, security experts, government officials, concerned citizens and the United States Supreme Court have called for enduring, pragmatic solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing climate change. This continues our work towards clean energy reform that will cut GHGs and reduce the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our national security and our economy.”

EPA’s final findings respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that GHGs fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. The findings do not in and of themselves impose any emission reduction requirements but rather allow EPA to finalize the GHG standards proposed earlier this year for new light-duty vehicles as part of the joint rulemaking with the Department of Transportation.

On-road vehicles contribute more than 23 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. EPA’s proposed GHG standards for light-duty vehicles, a subset of on-road vehicles, would reduce GHG emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of model year 2012-2016 vehicles.

EPA’s endangerment finding covers emissions of six key greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride – that have been the subject of scrutiny and intense analysis for decades by scientists in the United States and around the world.

Scientific consensus shows that as a result of human activities, GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are at record high levels and data shows that the Earth has been warming over the past 100 years, with the steepest increase in warming in recent decades. The evidence of human-induced climate change goes beyond observed increases in average surface temperatures; it includes melting ice in the Arctic, melting glaciers around the world, increasing ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans due to excess carbon dioxide, changing precipitation patterns, and changing patterns of ecosystems and wildlife.

President Obama and Administrator Jackson have publicly stated that they support a legislative solution to the problem of climate change and Congress’ efforts to pass comprehensive climate legislation. However, climate change is threatening public health and welfare, and it is critical that EPA fulfill its obligation to respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined that greenhouse gases fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants.

EPA issued the proposed findings in April 2009 and held a 60-day public comment period. The agency received more than 380,000 comments, which were carefully reviewed and considered during the development of the final findings.

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