The Obama EPA is moving forward with several major steps towards regulating the greenhouse gas pollution that causes climate change. Most significantly, the EPA just announced a proposed endangerment finding for greenhouse gas pollution. The endangerment finding would trigger a new regulatory process for carbon dioxide emissions and other climate change pollutants. (For an overview of the EPA’s endangerment finding, see this internal EPA presentation detailing the process and analysis, and see the EPA's webpage for additional information.) Under the federal Clean Air Act, an endangerment finding would require EPA to begin the process of regulating greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks, as well as new and modified stationary sources (such as coal-fired power plants and other major polluters).
This has been coming 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. Still, the Obama administration and new EPA leadership should be commended for moving forward with this important regulatory step when the Bush administration delayed and avoided compliance with the Clean Air Act for years.
The Obama EPA is also taking public comments on its proposed mandatory greenhouse gas reporting rule. The proposed rule would require thousands of major greenhouse gas polluters to report emissions of carbon dioxide and other significant pollutants that cause climate change. Reporting greenhouse gas emissions is an important first step towards eventual mandatory federal controls of greenhouse gas emissions, either through the Clean Air Act or new legislation. The EPA is also expected to grant California’s requested waiver to put in place stricter greenhouse gas emissions requirements for cars, a move that many other states are certain to follow.
The Obama administration is simply following existing laws (most notably the federal Clean Air Act) in moving forward with these regulatory actions. Unless or until Congress enacts a meaningful and effective new statute to regulate greenhouse gas pollution, regulatory action under the Clean Air Act is required and critical for preventing catastrophic climate change.