EPA Chief Reluctant to Regulate Greenhouse Gases
WASHINGTON, DC, March 28, 2008 (ENS) - The public will have an opportunity to comment before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency takes any action to regulate the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change, EPA chief Stephen Johnson told members of Congress in a letter on Thursday.

Johnson said he will solicit public input through an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking as the agency considers the specific effects of climate change and potential regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary and mobile sources under the Clean Air Act.

Last April 2, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that the federal agency must determine whether heat-trapping emissions endanger public health or welfare, and if they do, that the EPA must regulate these emissions from motor vehicles.

The EPA must decide whether greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health. (Photo credit unknown)

An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking "makes sense," Johnson wrote, "because, as the Act is structured, any regulation of greenhouse gases - even from mobile sources - could automatically result in other regulations applying to stationary sources and extend to small sources including many not previously regulated under the Clean Air Act."

Democrats in Congress were not persuaded. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said, "For nearly eight years, this Administration has tried to duck its obligation to address global warming pollution. A year ago, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are covered under the Clean Air Act. Now, instead of action, we get more foot-dragging."

"There is no time to waste, but the Administrator's letter today makes it clear that EPA doesn't intend to take any real action to combat global warming before President Bush leaves office," Boxer said.

"Time is not on our side when it comes to avoiding dangerous climate change. This letter makes it clear that Mr. Johnson and the Bush Administration are not on our side, either," she said.

Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who chairs the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, was particularly frustrated. He views Johnson's notice of rulemaking as another delay tactic as do others who insist global warming is an established fact and needs immediate action.

Markey has lost patience with Johnson's refusal to provide documents pertaining to draft regulations on tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions.

On April 2, the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling, Markey says his committee will vote to issue a subpoena for documents from the EPA showing what progress that agency has made in response to the high court's decision.

"I have tried to work with Administrator Johnson to acquire these important documents, and Congress and the American people have every right to see them," said Markey. "Johnson's strategy on producing these documents is the same as his strategy to deal with global warming: delay, deny and distract. The American people deserve better and the planet deserves better."

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who serves as ranking Republican on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, says the Clean Air Act is not the right way to regulate global warming.

"Global warming is a complicated and nuanced topic that needs smart and carefully-devised solutions. And because the policies needed to achieve greenhouse gas reductions also stand to damage our economy, these policies must be both economically and politically feasible," said Sensenbrenner.

"But left in the hands of regulators and the courts, greenhouse gas reductions could have serious consequences on our economy and our way of life," he said. "And I'm afraid the Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court decision runs the risk of putting this political question in the hands of unelected regulators."

In April of 2007, the Supreme Court directed the EPA to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions cause or contribute to air pollution that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.

If EPA makes this so-called "endangerment finding," the Supreme Court said, then it must regulate these emissions from motor vehicles.

Cars in Los Angeles and the smog they help to form. (Photo credit unknown)

In its response to the Supreme Court decision, EPA spent about six months conducting intensive analysis and, according to EPA staff disclosures to Congress, Johnson signed off on the agency's positive endangerment finding.

The endangerment finding, as well as a completed proposal to regulate emissions from motor vehicles to levels that correspond to a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2018, were forwarded to other White House and federal agencies for review in December 2007.

According to numerous statements made by Johnson and other Bush administration officials, the proposals were to be released publicly by the end of 2007 and finalized by the end of 2008. That has not occurred.

"Instead," said Markey, "reports have indicated that EPA has ceased all work in this area and, at the Select Committee's March 13 hearing, Johnson would not even commit to a firm date on which these documents would be released."

Johnson says the issues are complex especially in view of the many "petitions, lawsuits and court deadlines before the Agency."

"These include the Agency response to the Massachusetts v. EPA decision, several mobile source petitions (on-road, non-road, marine, and aviation), and several stationary source rulemakings (petroleum refineries, Portland cement, and power plant and industrial boilers)," Johnson wrote in his letter to Congress.

The advance notice will also raise potential issues in the controversial New Source Review section of the Clean Air Act, which requires that when a new source of electricity comes online, the generating facility must use the best available control technologies to minimize air pollution from the new source.

Sensenbrenner agrees that the issue is complex, saying, "Should the EPA determine it should regulate greenhouse gases through an endangerment finding, the effects could be more far reaching than anyone imagines."

"We're not talking about just new cars and, ultimately, power plants," the Wisconsin Republican said, "this could also include several types of buildings, including small factories, assisted living facilities, indoor sports arenas and even breweries. Where I'm from, we don't like the sound of that."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.