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EPA Releases Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding

The Environmental Protection Agency released an endangerment finding today that states that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare.

“EPA’s proposed endangerment finding is based on rigorous, peer-reviewed scientific analysis of six gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride — that have been the subject of intensive analysis by scientists around the world,” the agency announced in a press release. “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.”

The release stated that climate change can lead to “higher concentrations of ground-level ozone,” as well as “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.”

EPA sent this same finding to the White House late last month, EPA deputy press secretary Brendan Gilfillan told TWI. Today, following Office of Management and Budget approval, it was released to the public. A 60-day comment period now begins, after which the finding will be officially published.

In a sense, the finding is more of a threat than anything else. Just about everyone in government and industry would prefer legislation to regulate pollution, since it would give members of Congress and their constituents a say in the process. Even EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson would prefer to avoid this executive branch approach.

“The best solution, and I believe this in my heart, is to work with Congress to form and pass comprehensive legislation to deal with climate change,” Jackson said last month. “We hope to avert a regulatory thicket where governments and businesses spend an inordinate amount of time fighting. We are not looking for a doomsday solution.”

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) likewise said in a statement this morning, “The release of EPA’s proposed finding that global warming is a threat to public health and welfare is long overdue. … However, 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.”

The EPA move, enabled by a Supreme Court decision two years ago that ordered the agency to investigate the effects of carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, will not result in major regulation in the immediate future. Rather, it is likely to spur members of Congress to enact their own regulations. Environmental activists have expressed hope that some moderate senators, who threaten to block the passage of a cap-and-trade bill, will be amenable to compromise if the alternative is unchecked EPA regulation.

Note: This post has been updated following a call from EPA’s Gilfillan, who clarified some points that had been presented misleadingly in a Washington Post story on the topic.

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