As expected, the US EPA this week took two formal actions finding that: (1) greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare; and (2) greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles contribute to the greenhouse gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare. The details of the EPA’s “endangerment findings” are available on the EPA’s climate change regulatory initiatives webpage.
These findings have been nearly inevitable ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Massachusetts v. EPA decision in 2007, which held that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act and that the EPA must either issue an endangerment finding or justify a decision not to do so. With the overwhelming scientific data and studies demonstrating the harm from greenhouse gas pollution and climate change (heat waves, reduced freshwater supplies, coastal flooding, harmful air quality, infectious diseases, etc.) the endangerment finding was the only lawful outcome.
While the endangerment finding does not on its own impose new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, it does trigger several regulatory requirements under the federal Clean Air Act. Most immediately, the endangerment finding allows the EPA to finalize its proposed greenhouse gas emission standards for light-duty vehicles, which will require far more efficient cars and trucks (up to 35 mpg) in coming years. The endangerment finding will also likely lead to new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions from large stationary sources, such as coal-fired power plants and garbage incinerators.
I don’t want to dismiss the importance of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen taking place over the next two weeks, but this action by the EPA will have more immediate and tangible implications for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. President Obama’s expected appearance in Copenhagen is a statement to the world that the US is committed to addressing climate change. But this action by the Obama EPA does more than make a statement – it sets in motion the full power of the US EPA to regulate climate change pollution from cars, power plants, and other major sources.