The Obama administration is swiftly establishing a new regulatory world in which carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will be treated as pollutants. By Earth Day, we could see the long-awaited endangerment finding on CO2.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has fast-tracked a federal response to the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, which ordered the federal government to make a determination that greenhouse gas emissions endanger the public health and welfare.
The Bush administration ignored that Supreme Court ruling for almost two years; now Obama's EPA is moving on it.
The EPA expects to wrap up a scientific review of the human health and climate dangers from greenhouse gas emissions today, and then submit its findings to formal interagency reviews starting next week, according to a March 6 document obtained by Greenwire.
Jackson intends to sign the endangerment finding on April 16.
The endangerment finding is a necessary foundation for future regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, factories, power plants, and other sources, notes Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.
"After years of delay by the previous administration, the Obama administration's quick action to study and control global warming pollution is a breath of fresh air. This is yet more proof that President Obama has ended the Bush administration's war on science once and for all."
The greenhouse gas endangerment finding will cover six gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride, however the document states that others could be added, including black carbon and aviation contrails.
Jackson doesn't plan to issue any related greenhouse gas regulations until the 60-day
comment period on the endangerment finding has ended and the finding is finalized. Once that happens, these industries should be prepared: Electricity, transportation and industry, the biggest polluters of CO2, which makes up 84.4 percent of the emissions; livestock, landfills and natural gas, which lead methane production; and agriculture, the primary source of nitrous oxide.
Among the arguments cited in the document for recommending a positive endangerment finding:
- Severe heat waves are projected to intensify in magnitude and duration over the portions of the U.S. where these events already occur, with likely increases in mortality and morbidity, especially among the elderly, young and frail.
- Climate change is expected to lead to increases in regional ozone pollution, with associated risks in respiratory infection, aggravation of asthma, and premature death.
- Storm impacts are likely to be more severe, especially along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.
- Intensity of precipitation events is projected to increase in the U.S. and other regions of the world, increasing the risk of flooding, greater runoff and erosion, and thus the potential for adverse water quality effects.
- Projected trends will increase the number of people suffering from disease and injury due to floods, storms, droughts and fires.
- Expanded ranges of vector-borne and tick-borne diseases are expected but with modulation by public health measures and other factors.
- Climate change scientific literature already draws attention to environmental justice considerations.
Jackson might be holding off issuing new regulations, but she isn't waiting to starting building the framework for action. Today, she signed a proposed rule that will require all major U.S. polluters – from coal-fired power plants to cement producers, automakers, and iron and steel works – to report their greenhouse gas emissions.
The federal government already has a voluntary reporting program, established by the Energy Policy Act of 1992. The new rules, once reviewed and finalized, will make greenhouse gas reporting mandatory for all large U.S. polluters, from coal-fired power plants to cement producers, automakers, and iron and steel works.
The rule's reporting threshold of 25,000 metric tons per year – equivalent to 4,500 cars on the road – should be high enough to avoid burdening small businesses and conscientious companies. However, the approximately 13,000 facilities that it will cover are responsible for 85 percent to 90 percent of the nation's greenhouse gases, according to the EPA.
"Our efforts to confront climate change must be guided by the best possible information. Through this new reporting, we will have comprehensive and accurate data about the production of greenhouse gases. This is a critical step toward helping us better protect our health and environment – all without placing an onerous burden on our nation's small businesses."
The rule, expected to start with 2010 emissions, covers the six greenhouse gases in the endangerment finding, plus sulfur hexafluoride and other fluorinated gases, including nitrogen trifluoride and hydrofluorinated ethers.
Flourinated gases are common in the computer chip industry, where voluntary reporting programs have already significantly reduced their emissions – which are 6,500 to 23,900 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The knowledge that chip manufacturers gained from voluntary reporting, and the likelihood of eventual mandatory reductions, encouraged voluntary emissions reductions that were so steep, the majority of the semiconductor industry won't be affected by even strict new California greenhouse gas laws.