The proposed finding states, "In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act."
The proposed finding identifies six greenhouse gases that pose a potential threat - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. These are the same six gases governed by the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States signed during the Clinton administration but did not ratify under the Bush administration.
"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," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "This pollution problem has a solution - one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country's dependence on foreign oil."
Florida's Seminole coal-fired power plant is one of about 400 such generating stations across the country that emit greenhouse gases. (Photo courtesy Seminole Electric Coop)
After what Jackson calls "rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific analysis" of the six gases, she said today, "The science clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate."
In addition to threatening human health, the analysis finds that climate change has serious national security implications. Consistent with this proposed finding, in 2007, 11 retired U.S. generals and admirals signed a report from the Center for a New American Security stating that climate change "presents significant national security challenges for the United States."
Escalating violence in destabilized regions can be incited and fomented by an increasing scarcity of resources - including water. This lack of resources, driven by climate change patterns, then drives massive migration to more stabilized regions of the world, said the security report.
The EPA's analysis comes after the U.S. Supreme court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that characterized carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and remanded to the federal agency the issue of whether or not carbon emissions constitute an endangerment.
The EPA's scientific analysis confirms that climate change impacts human health in several ways.
Findings from a recent EPA study titled "Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on Ground-Level Ozone," for example, suggest that climate change may lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone, a harmful pollutant.
South Carolina's Cross coal-fired plant is the newest and largest in the state. (Photo courtesy Santee Cooper)
Additional impacts of climate change include 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.
In proposing the finding, Jackson says she took into account the disproportionate impact climate change has on the health of certain segments of the population, such as the poor, the very young, the elderly, those already in poor health, the disabled, those living alone and/or indigenous populations dependent on one or a few resources.
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said, "The release of EPA's proposed finding that global warming is a threat to public health and welfare is long overdue - we have lost eight years in this fight. The Clean Air Act provides EPA with an effective toolbox for cutting greenhouse gas emissions right now."
"However," Boxer said, "the best and most flexible way to deal with this serious problem is to enact a market based cap-and-trade system which will help us make the transition to clean energy and will bring us innovation and strong economic growth."
In a series of hearings, Boxer's committee has established that global warming pollution is already beginning to heat the planet.
But Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who serves as Ranking Member on the committee, said today that the proposed endangerment finding "will unleash a torrent of regulations that will destroy jobs, harm consumers, and extend the agency's reach into every corner of American life. Despite enormous expense and hardship for the American economy, these regulations will have virtually no effect on climate change," he said.
Inhofe said the solution is not for Congress to pass cap-and-trade legislation, which he said "replaces one very bad approach with another." Congress should pass "a simple, narrowly-targeted bill that stops EPA in its tracks," he said.
Oklahoma's Muskogee power plant is fueled by subbituminous coal and natural gas. (Photo courtesy xpda.com)
The National Association of Manufacturers warned that the proposed endangerment finding will trigger regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act and "pre-empt congressional debate on an issue that would impact all sectors of the struggling economy."
"This proposal will cost jobs," said NAM President John Engler. "It is the worst possible time to be proposing rules that will drive up the cost of energy to no valid purpose."
"Triggering the various permitting programs under the Clean Air Act through an endangerment finding will add costly delays to manufacturers seeking to expand operations or upgrade their manufacturing processes in a manner that conserves energy," Engler said.
"An endangerment finding would not only undermine recovery, but could also prevent the most environmentally sophisticated technologies from being incorporated into a manufacturer's operation. The clean air laws were designed to focus on local pollutants. Greenhouse gas emissions, however, are global in nature and require a new framework."
But environmentalists agreed with the proposed finding.
David Doniger, policy director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and its attorney in the Supreme Court's landmark global warming case, Massachusetts v. EPA, said, ""At long last, the EPA has officially recognized that carbon pollution is harmful to our health and to the climate. The heat-trapping pollution from our cars and power plants leads to killer heat waves, stronger hurricanes, higher smog levels, and many other direct and indirect threats to human health."
"With this step, Administrator Lisa Jackson and the Obama administration have gone a long way to restore respect for both science and law. The era of defying science and the Supreme Court has ended," Doniger said.
Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch said, "It's a no-brainer that global warming poses a threat to health and the environment. Only in the polluter-friendly world of George W. Bush would this even be a point of debate."
"The real question is what happens next," said O'Donnell. "Ideally, Congress should step in, and enact a comprehensive global warming plan that requires polluters to pay for the privilege of polluting - with most or all of the proceeds given back to taxpayers."
"The U.S. is taking its first steps as a nation to confront climate change," said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel at Environmental Defense Fund. "Global warming threatens our health, our economy, and our children's prosperity. EPA's action is a wake up-call for national policy solutions that secure our economic and environmental future."
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, said, "While the federal government was asleep at the wheel for years, we in California have known greenhouse gases are a threat to our health and to our environment – that’s why we have taken such aggressive action to reduce harmful emissions and move toward a greener economy.
"Two years after the Supreme Court declared greenhouse gas emissions a pollutant," said the governor, "it's promising to see the new administration in Washington showing signs that it will take an aggressive leadership role in fighting climate change that will lead to reduced emissions, thousands of new green jobs and a healthier future for our children and our planet."
The proposed endangerment finding now enters the public comment period, which is the next step in the process EPA must undertake before issuing final findings. Today's proposed finding does not include any proposed regulations.
Before taking any steps to reduce greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, the EPA would conduct an appropriate process and consider stakeholder input.
Still, both President Barack Obama and Administrator Jackson have repeatedly indicated their preference for comprehensive legislation rather than regulation to address climate change and create the framework for a clean energy economy.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.