EPA Raises Heat on Emissions Debate[Wall Street Journal]
WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency has sent the White House a proposed finding that carbon dioxide is a danger to public health, a step that could trigger a clampdown on emissions of greenhouse gases across a wide swath of the economy.
If approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the endangerment finding could clear the way for the EPA to use the Clean Air Act to control emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases believed to contribute to climate change. In effect, the government would treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The EPA submitted the proposed rule to the White House on Friday, according to federal records published Monday.
Such a finding would raise pressure on Congress to enact a system that caps greenhouse gases -- which trap the sun's heat in the earth's atmosphere -- and creates a market for businesses to buy and sell the right to emit them, as President Barack Obama has proposed.
A White House representative said Monday that Mr. Obama's "strong preference is for Congress to pass energy security legislation that includes a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions. The Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must review whether greenhouse-gas emissions pose a threat to public health or welfare, and this is simply the next step in what will be a long process that engages stakeholders and the public."
The administration has proposed a cap-and-trade system that could raise $646 billion by 2019 through government auctions of emission allowances. Environmentalists want the administration to act on climate change before December, ahead of talks aimed at forging a successor to the Koyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement that commits many industrialized countries to reducing their greenhouse-gas emissions.
* Carbon Caps Are the Best Policy
EPA spokeswoman Cathy Milbourn declined to comment on the details of the endangerment proposal, saying it is "still [an] internal and deliberative" document. But in a move that indicated the potential scope of regulation, the agency earlier this month proposed a national system for reporting carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions by major emitters. The EPA has said about 13,000 facilities, accounting for about 85% to 90% of greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S., would be covered under the proposal.
Industry officials say it will still take months, possibly even years, for the administration to finalize rules for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions.
According to an internal document presented by the EPA to White House officials earlier this month, the EPA believes the health effects of elevated greenhouse-gas levels could cause "severe heat waves...with likely increases in mortality and morbidity, especially among the elderly, young and frail." The agency also said climate change caused by higher greenhouse-gas levels could result in more severe storms and more suffering related to "floods, storms, droughts and fires."
Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers warn that if the EPA moves forward on regulation of CO2 under the Clean Air Act -- instead of a measured legislative approach -- it could hobble the already weak economy.
Coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and domestic industries, such as energy-intensive paper, cement, fertilizer, steel, and glass manufacturers, worry that increased cost burdens imposed by climate-change laws will put them at a severe competitive disadvantage to their international peers that aren't bound by similar environmental rules.
Environmentalists have called for the endangerment finding, and say action by Congress or the Obama administration to curb greenhouse gases is necessary to halt the ill effects of climate change.