Uproar over EPA's Finding that Greenhouse Gases Endanger Public Health

After what it calls a “thorough examination of scientific evidence” and consideration of more than 380,000 public comments, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten the public health and welfare of the American people. EPA also found that GHG emissions from on-road vehicles contribute to that threat.

These final findings are in response to an April 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that GHGs fall within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. These findings do not in and of themselves impose any emission reduction requirements, but do allow EPA to finalize GHG standards proposed in 2009 for new light-duty vehicles as part of a joint rulemaking with the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Safety Administration.

EPA has already established a nationwide GHG emissions reporting system. Beginning January 1, 2010, EPA is requiring facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more of carbon dioxide equivalent per year to collect GHG data under the new reporting system. It is estimated that roughly 10,000 facilities will fall under the new rules. The first annual reports for the largest emitting facilities, covering calendar year 2010, will be submitted to EPA in 2011. At that time, under a proposed rule, those facilities will be required to incorporate the best available methods for controlling GHGs when they plan to construct or expand.

EPA’s findings immediately raised concerns among industry groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), and legislators. NCBA is “extremely concerned” about the potential impact on agriculture operations, so much so the organization filed a petition in late December in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals challenging EPA’s “endangerment finding” rule. The petition NCBA filed, as part of a coalition of interested parties, is the first step in asking the court of appeals to overturn EPA’s rule due to a lack of sound or adequate basis for making the finding of endangerment from anthropogenic GHGs.

While agricultural sources are currently generally not required to obtain permits for GHG emissions, regulations of GHGs under the Clean Air Act may, for the first time, trigger such regulation, said NCBA. According to EPA, in 2007, GHG emissions from the entire agriculture sector represented less than six percent of total U.S. GHG emissions in tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and the livestock industry emitted only 2.8 percent. On-road vehicles contribute more than 23 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions.

“EPA’s finding is not based on a rigorous scientific analysis; yet it would trigger a cascade of future greenhouse gas regulations with sweeping impacts across the entire U.S. economy,” said Tamara Thies, NCBA’s chief environmental counsel. “Instead of letting the issue of climate change, and man’s alleged contribution to it, be addressed through the proper democratic legislative process, EPA has decided to trump Congress and mandate greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act. The act is ill-equipped to address climate change, and Congress never intended for it to be used for that purpose.”

Apparently Congress agrees. One legislator has taken a step toward prohibiting EPA from regulating GHGs. In early January, Congressman Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) introduced a bill, House of Representatives (H.R.) 4396, the Save Our Energy Jobs Act, that would prohibit the EPA from regulating GHGs.

Once EPA’s rule on light-duty vehicle emissions becomes final, GHGs will officially be regulated pollutants under the Clean Air Act subsequently subjecting stationary sources that emit GHGs, such as power plants and factories, to regulation under the act. According to Pomeroy, such regulation could significantly raise energy prices and endanger thousands of jobs.

“Regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the current provisions of the Clean Air Act is irresponsible and just plain wrong,” Pomeroy stated. His bill also supports the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives’ position that Congress should be in charge of setting policy on climate change legislation at a pace that’s fair, affordable, and achievable.

February 2010 RENDER | back