“This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in announcing the agency’s official position. “This pollution problem has a solution—one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.”
The decision has been a long time coming.
Today’s formal “endangerment finding” from the EPA comes two years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the agency had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and ordered the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gases were a danger to the environment and public health. Following the Supreme Court’s directive, EPA scientists sent an endangerment finding to the White House as an e-mail attachment in December 2007, saying that greenhouse gases are harmful and should be regulated. Senior White House officials suppressed the report, pretending it didn’t exist and refusing even to open the e-mail.
The six greenhouse gases named in the new EPA endangerment finding are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. Other heat-trapping gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect, such as water vapor and ground-level ozone, more commonly called smog, were not included in the list because they are not emitted directly.
The proposed endangerment finding, which must undergo a 60-day public comment period before it can be official adopted or acted upon, left little doubt about its purpose and intent. “In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem,” the finding said. “The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.”
In proposing the finding, Jackson said she also took into account the disproportionate impact climate change has on the health of certain groups of people, such as the poor, the very young, the elderly, those already in poor health, people with disabilities, those who live alone and indigenous populations who may be dependent on limited resources. She said the EPA analysis also found that climate change has serious national security implications. As the increasing scarcity of resources leads to escalating violence in destabilized regions, it will cause a massive migration of environmental refugees to more stable regions with more resources.
Even though the proposed endangerment finding sets the stage for federal regulation of greenhouse gases, Jackson made it clear that she believes legislation would be more effective than regulation in addressing climate change and its causes. Such legislation would require broad political consensus before it could pass and would be less vulnerable to legal challenges.
Whether Congress can muster the necessary consensus to pass effective climate-change legislation any time soon is another question, but serious discussions are underway on Capitol Hill and some bills have been introduced that could provide a framework for the work that needs to be done.