Big news from the EPA: Greenhouse gases harm humans!
The EPA said that the scientific evidence surrounding climate change clearly shows that greenhouse gases “threaten the public health and welfare of the American people” and that the pollutants — mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels — should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
“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,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at news conference.
There has been some debate over whether CO2 and other GHGs count as pollutants, since they aren’t actually poisonous. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that GHGs could legally be regulated under the Clean Air Act, if the EPA determined that they posed a danger to public health — which is has now done.
What happens next? Not much. The Administration would rather curb emissions through a cap-and-trade bill, since that would be easier on the economy. A lot of environmentalists are wary of a carbon trading plan, especially one that gives away free pollution permits. But those free permits are intended to keep the cost down, which may be necessary to pass the bill.
I think the EPA’s decision has two main benefits. First, it’s a sign that the Obama Administration is serious about cutting emissions, even if Congress doesn’t pass a clean energy bill. Second, it puts the U.S. in a better position for Copenhagen.
Of course, if the EPA did try to implement “command and control” regulations, it would be a long and difficult legal process, with protest from business groups — probably even greater than what we’re seeing now. And we don’t know for sure that the Administration would even take that step. But the option is more open than before. We’re on the right track.