With the Senate still at loggerheads over climate legislation, the EPA announced Monday that it was moving forward with its greenhouse gas endangerment finding and had sent the final ruling to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.
The final document wasn't immediately released, but the version that went through a White House review this spring and was open for public comment declared greenhouse gas emissions to be a danger to public health and welfare.
That finding, once official, could open the door for the EPA to issue rules for regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told Reuters in an interview on Monday that the final proposal was sent to the OMB on Friday. The office now has 90 days to act, but Jackson anticipates a quicker response.
"We've briefed them a couple of times. So we're hoping for an expedited review," she said.
The prospect of the EPA regulating CO2 emissions on a case-by-case basis doesn't sit well with major greenhouse gas emitters, and several members of Congress have been trying to block the EPA from assuming that authority.
In the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill, those Congress members demanded a preemption clause that would forbid the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Environmental groups and government watchdogs warn that the restriction would create perverse incentives for the energy companies to keep the worst polluting power plants running.
The Senate's Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, as approved by the Environment and Public Works Committee last week, would prevent some EPA action on greenhouse gases but preserve the EPA's oversight of large industrial sources. In an attempted end run, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski tried to add a full prohibition to an appropriations bill this fall but failed.
Jackson has repeatedly stated two things about the endangerment finding: That she's following the science and that she's doing what the Supreme Court ordered the EPA to do two and half years ago, during the Bush administration.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 in Massachusetts v. EPA 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 health and welfare, the court ruled, then the agency had to act.
Later that year, the EPA wrote a draft endangerment finding stating that "the air pollution of elevated levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public welfare."
Like Jackson's proposed finding, it went on to discuss the threats that climate change posed to humanity in the form of sea level rise, storm surges, flooding, deadly heat waves, wildfires and spreading diseases. It, too, noted that the ecosystem, agriculture, water resources and the U.S. economy were at risk. The Bush White House never acted on it.
Jackson reminds Congress each time she testifies on climate change that President Obama would prefer to regulate greenhouse gas emissions via a cap-and-trade law, but the prospects of Congress passing one this year are doubtful. Meanwhile, the international community will meet in Copenhagen in less than a month to try to work out a new agreement for tackling climate change. The U.S. delegation would benefit from some evidence of action.