[JURIST] The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] announced Friday a proposed finding [report, PDF] that atmospheric greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, setting the stage for government regulation of the harmful gases for the first time. Announcement of the proposed finding, which was submitted [JURIST report] to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) [official website] for final review last month, begins a 60-day public comment period prior to the promulgation of proposed rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The final ruling reached by the EPA with the approval of President Barack Obama [official profile] is expected to lead to restrictions of manufacturing and vehicle emissions under the Clean Air Act [text, PDF]. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson [official profile] said at the announcement [press release] of the proposed findings that the document "confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations," and that "it follows President Obama’s call for a low carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation[.]" The summary of the proposed finding gives specific reference to the gases that will be subject to future regulation:
Today the Administrator is proposing to find that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations. Concentrations of greenhouse gases are at unprecedented levels compared to the recent and distant past. These high atmospheric levels are the unambiguous result of human emissions, and are very likely the cause of the observed increase in average temperatures and other climatic changes. The effects of climate change observed to date and projected to occur in the future – including but not limited to the increased likelihood of more frequent and intense heat waves, more wildfires, degraded air quality, more heavy downpours and flooding, increased drought, greater sea level rise, more intense storms, harm to water resources, harm to agriculture, and harm to wildlife and ecosystems – are effects on public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act. In light of the likelihood that greenhouse gases cause these effects, and the magnitude of the effects that are occurring and are very likely to occur in the future, the Administrator proposes to find that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. She proposes to make this finding specifically with respect to six greenhouse gases that together constitute the root of the climate change problem: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride.
The Administrator is also proposing to find that the combined emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines are contributing to this mix of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Thus, she proposes to find that the emissions of these substances from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines are contributing to air pollution which is endangering public health and welfare under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act.
The regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act has been the subject of considerable controversy and litigation in recent years. Last month, the EPA held a hearing [JURIST report] to reconsider California's request to regulate automobile greenhouse gases. The request had been denied by the EPA during the administration of former president George W. Bush. In July, a US House of Representatives report revealed that the Bush administration abandoned plans to use the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases on power plants and other stationary pollution sources after opposition from the oil industry [JURIST report]. In April 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had the authority [JURIST report] under the Clean Air Act to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases by automobiles.