EPA Announces Endangerment Finding (on a Friday)

by Bill Chameides | April 20th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | Comments Off on EPA Announces Endangerment Finding (on a Friday)

Lisa Jackson took over as EPA administrator on January 26, 2009. On April 17, after a two-month review, EPA concluded that indeed CO2 poses a threat to human health.

After a two-month study initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, EPA has announced that carbon dioxide (CO2) and five other greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. But why on a Friday?

On April 17, 2009 U.S. EPA released its much anticipated “endangerment finding” on greenhouse gases. EPA concluded that the climate change caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases poses a threat to public health and welfare because of “higher concentrations of ground-level ozone; … increased drought; more heavy downpours and flooding; more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires; greater sea level rise; more intense storms; and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.”

It was a long time in coming — two years and 15 days to be exact since the Supreme Court concluded in Massachusetts vs. EPA that the agency had responsibility under the Clean Air Act to regulate CO2 unless it found that such emissions did not pose a health threat. The Bush administration’s inaction created a long interlude between the court decision and movement on the issue (see here and here). But a few weeks after taking the helm at EPA, Jackson asked her staff to review the science to determine if greenhouse gases pose a threat. Two months later came the endangerment finding.

The Finding Is Just the Beginning

As long as it took to arrive at the endangerment finding, it could take as long or longer before anything actually happens. First comes a two-month public comment period followed by an EPA response, which could, in principle, retract the endangerment finding but will almost certainly be an official publication of the finding with perhaps some modifications on the details.

But such publication hardly means the start of regulations. Before that can happen the agency will have to undertake a lengthy rule-making procedure involving public hearings. Then EPA will issue proposed rules and regulations, to be followed by public commenting periods, and then the official publication of the rules and regulations.

All told, this will likely take a year or two before the regs actually go into effect — and you can be sure we will see litigation. Who will sue? Don’t be too surprised to see in court both affected businesses, which find the regulations too onerous, and enviros, which find them too lax. Those legal battles could put implementation of the rules and regulations on hold until they are resolved.

And even once they are in place, the regulations will represent a piecemeal approach to addressing emissions — they will probably not include an economy-wide cap and trade but a series of regulations on allowable emissions from specific types of sources like power plants and automobiles.

Speculation About the Friday Announcement

Given the torturous path required to regulate CO2 and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, it is not surprising that the administration would prefer Congress get in the act, superseding any agency action with climate change legislation. Indeed, it is widely held that the only reason the administration has gone forward with the endangerment ruling is to force the Congressional hand. Given its distaste for EPA-type regulations, the speculation goes, Congress will have no choice now but to pass a climate bill.

I may be the Lone Ranger on this, but in my opinion the administration is simply following the rule of law. The Supreme Court concluded that EPA must regulate CO2 if the scientific evidence indicates it poses public endangerment. After careful review, EPA concluded that the evidence shows CO2 does pose a threat. With this finding, the agency must now proceed with developing rules and regulations. Moreover, given the difficulties in getting a majority of House representatives and 60 senators to support a single comprehensive climate change bill with teeth, I am relieved to see forward movement on the issue.

One last thought. What I find interesting about the endangerment finding is that its announcement was made on a Friday. A well-known tactic for sneaking something in without much notice or hoopla is to do it on a Friday. By the time it hits the morning papers the following Monday, it’s somewhat old news and thus gets little play. Could it be that Obama has decided to move forward on climate but to keep it on the QT for now?

filed under: carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, faculty, global warming, policy, politics
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