Showing a fine sense of message and timing, the United States entered the first day of the crucial climate change conference in Copenhagen armed with a potentially game-changing decision from the Environmental Protection Agency: Greenhouse gases threaten public health and the environment and must be regulated.
EPA’s announcement Monday sent a sharp signal to the world that the Obama administration is serious about addressing climate change on both the world stage and within its own borders. It tells the U.S. Congress that the administration is prepared to contain global warming without congressional action if necessary. And it adds a further layer to the battle for rapid congressional approval of health care reform.
More importantly the so-called “endangerment finding” goes beyond mere words. It sets the stage for action and underscores a firm break with the policies and inaction of the past decade or so.
“Threat” is the word that the EPA finding and agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson used often in her remarks on Monday. EPA also found that GHG emissions from on-road vehicles contribute to the environmental and public health threat.
EPA says, “GHGs are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor or elderly; increases in ground-level ozone pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses; as well as other threats to the health and welfare of Americans.”
Jackson said, “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. 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.
“This continues our work towards clean energy reform that will cut GHGs and reduce the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our national security and our economy.”
EPA’s final findings respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that GHGs fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. The findings do not impose any emission reduction requirements but, for example, allow EPA to finalize the GHG standards proposed earlier this year for new light-duty vehicles as part of the joint rulemaking with the Department of Transportation.
On-road vehicles contribute more than 23 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. EPA’s proposed GHG standards for light-duty vehicles, a subset of on-road vehicles, would reduce GHG emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of model year 2012-2016 vehicles.
The endangerment finding covers emissions of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.
“Scientific consensus shows that as a result of human activities, GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are at record high levels and data shows that the Earth has been warming over the past 100 years, with the steepest increase in warming in recent decades,” EPA says.
“The evidence of human-induced climate change goes beyond observed increases in average surface temperatures; it includes melting ice in the Arctic, melting glaciers around the world, increasing ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans due to excess carbon dioxide, changing precipitation patterns, and changing patterns of ecosystems and wildlife.”
“This administration will not ignore science or the law any longer,” Jackson asserted.
She added that the endangerment finding “provides the legal foundation for finalizing the recently proposed clean cars program.” The program was developed in collaboration with the American auto industry and other stakeholders, she said, and contains the nation’s first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from American vehicles.
Starting next spring, large emitting facilities will be required to incorporate the best available methods for controlling greenhouse gas emissions in their construction or expansion planning. In addition, the EPA’s nationwide GHG emissions reporting and monitoring system begins next month.
“As the major global warming summit begins this week in Copenhagen, this announcement couldn’t come at a more important time,” says Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. “The Obama administration has followed through on its pledge to act and is demonstrating that the U.S. has turned away from eight years of inaction under the Bush administration.” It’s “one more key commitment President Obama can bring to the world to show that the U.S. will do its part to fight global warming,” Pope continues.
They say in some circles that just showing up is most of the battle. In the case of COP 15, that’s not nearly good enough and the U.S. is showing it is acutely aware of this.