EPA Chief says the agency has been fighting to make up for lost time on its climate change policies.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruling that greenhouse gases pose a public health threat has set the stage for new emission regulations while setting off a battle in Congress and howls of protest from industry groups.
Speaking at global climate talks in Copenhagen Wednesday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged the organizations shortfalls over the last eight years.
“We have been fighting to make up for lost time,” Jackson said. She added that the U.S. has made more progress on climate change in the last 11 months than in the previous eight years under former president George W. Bush, whose administration rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to limit the greenhouse emissions of industrialized countries.
Monday’s “endangerment finding” by the EPA declared that six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, pose a danger to the environment and public health. It follows a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that greenhouse gases fall within the Clean Air Act’s definition of air pollutants.
While the finding itself does not impose emission reduction requirements, it allows the EPA to use the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels without Congressional approval. In the short term, it will allow the EPA to finalize greenhouse gas standards proposed for new light-duty vehicles earlier this year. More than 23 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions come from road vehicles, according to the EPA.
“These long-overdue findings cement 2009’s place in history as the year when the United States Government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform,” Jackson said in a statement.
“Business leaders, security experts, government officials, concerned citizens and the United States Supreme Court have called for enduring, pragmatic solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing climate change,” she said. “This continues our work towards clean energy reform that will cut GHGs (greenhouse gases) and reduce the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our national security and our economy.”
The EPA announcement, which came on the first day of the COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen, drew praise from the European Commission (EU). A spokesman for the EU called it “an important signal by the Obama administration that they are serious about tackling climate change and are demonstrating leadership,” according to the New York Times.
In the United States, business leaders warned that allowing the EPA to set greenhouse gas standards would result in greater costs to the economy than giving the responsibility to Congress, which is debating its own emission requirements.
On Tuesday, House and Senate lawmakers rejected an attempt to block the EPA from wielding the endangerment finding during a vote on a $446.8 billion omnibus spending bill.
The attempt, an amendment by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), would have blocked any funding from the omnibus bill being used for Clean Air Act regulations based on the endangerment finding.