In December 2007, while George W. Bush was president, the EPA proposed to declare greenhouse gases a danger to the public welfare. The Bush-Cheney White House ignored that proposal, and the draft was kept secret from the public — until now.
The 2007 draft, just released by the EPA, begins:
"The Administrator proposes to find that the air pollution of elevated levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public welfare.
"The Administrator is defining the air pollution to be the elevated concentrations of the mix of six GHGs: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).
"The Administrator further proposes to find under section 202(a) that CO2 emissions from new motor vehicles contribute to this air pollution, and that under section 211(c)(1) CO2 emissions from the combustion of fuels used by motor vehicles, non-road vehicles, and non-road engines contribute to this air pollution.
"As discussed further below, the Administrator is considering whether emissions of CH4, N2O, and HFCs under sections 202(a) and 211(c)(1) do or do not contribute to this air pollution, and intends to make a determination on this issue in the final rule."
The draft goes on to describe the dangers posed to the United States by climate change from sea level rise, storm surges, flooding, erosion, deadly heat waves, diseases and wildfires, and it says the ecosystem, agriculture, water resources and U.S. economy are at risk.
Congressional leaders had seen the document but weren't allowed to release it in full. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) discussed excerpts last year while calling for a subpoena. At the time, she said:
"Information is being kept from us, and by extension information is being kept from the American people. And this isn't just any kind of information. It is information that deals with the health, the safety and the very lives of the people we represent and their children and their grandchildren. ...
"The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency concludes in this document that there is an endangerment to the American people based on the strongest possible evidence. It is clear. It is chilling."
Rep. Ed Markey's (D-Mass.) Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming also conducted an investigation after then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson refused to hand over the document. The investigation found "widespread agreement within the Bush administration that greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles endanger public welfare and should be regulated."
The 2007 EPA draft from Bush administration staff clearly states what opponents of climate action have tried so vehemently to deny:
"Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.
"Global mean surface temperatures have risen by 0.74°C (1.3°F) over the last 100 years. The rate of warming over the last 50 years is almost double that over the last 100 years. Global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries.
"Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations. Global observed temperatures over the last century can be reproduced only when model simulations include both natural and anthropogenic forcings, i.e., simulations that remove anthropogenic forcings are unable to reproduce observed temperature changes. Thus, the warming cannot be explained by natural variability alone."
The Bush administration EPA's findings followed a Supreme Court ruling earlier in 2007. In Massachusetts v. EPA, the court found that the EPA had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and that it could not refuse to use that authority simply because of policy preferences. If the EPA found that greenhouse gases endangered the public welfare, the court rule, then the agency had to act. The EPA did the research in 2007 and wrote the draft endangerment finding, but the White House refused to open the document.
The Obama EPA has since proposed its own endangerment finding. It goes farther than the 2007 draft by declaring greenhouse gases a danger to human health as well as human welfare.
That proposal has yet to be finalized, though, and already the EPA is facing efforts to block it from regulating greenhouse gases.
The Chamber of Commerce has called for a "Scopes monkey trial" on the science behind the EPA's proposed endangerment finding; several major businesses have since left the Chamber of Commerce over that opposition.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) last month attempted to add an amendment to an appropriation bill that would have restricted the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases for at least another year. The amendment never reached a vote, but Murkowski and other Republicans have vowed to bring it back.
The House-passed American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill also would limit the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases while putting federal law in place to do the job. Environmental groups and scientists have been urging Congress to keep the EPA's regulatory ability on greenhouse gases in any climate bill that passes. So far, the Senate's version makes no mention of restricting the EPA.
(Photo: Eric Draper, White House)