Today’s the Day: EPA Releases Endangerment Finding for Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act

This morning, EPA issued a proposed finding that greenhouse gasses contribute to air pollution and may endanger public health or welfare. The proposed finding comes almost exactly two years after the Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. EPA, ordered the agency to examine whether emissions linked to climate change should be curbed under the Clean Air Act, and marks a major shift in the federal government’s approach to global warming.

The finding, which now moves to a 60-day public comment period, identifies the six greenhouse gases that pose a potential threat as a set, a tactic which we discussed the potential impact of a few weeks ago

Overall, the proposed finding is very similar to the language released in March. It concludes that “in both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.”

Some interesting highlights of the finding include:

  • Environmental justice: As the EPA press release states, “in proposing the finding, Administrator Jackson took into account the disproportionate impact climate change has on the health of certain segments of the population, such as the poor, the very young, the elderly, those already in poor health, the disabled, those living alone and/or indigenous populations dependent on one or a few resources.”
  • National Security: As the EPA press release phrased it, “Escalating violence in destabilized regions can be incited and fomented by an increasing scarcity of resources – including water. This lack of resources, driven by climate change patterns, then drives massive migration to more stabilized regions of the world.” 
  • Vehicles: By including a "cause or contribute" finding for cars, the proposed finding implies that not only are greenhouse gases dangerous in general, but that such emissions from cars and trucks are reasonably likely to contribute to climate change

The finding does not include any proposed regulations.  However, while release of the finding is a huge development, it still seems likely that the Obama Administration will hold off on regulations in favor of a legislative solution. As the Washington Post reported today, at the Aspen Environment Forum last month, Administrator Jackson emphasized that "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.” 

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