EPA determines GHGs threaten public health

By Craig A. Johnson
Posted Dec. 11, 2009, at 9:10 a.m. CST

The U.S. EPA announced this week that, after a thorough examination of available scientific evidence and consideration of public comments, it has determined greenhouse gases (GHGs) threaten public health and welfare. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the authority to regulate GHGs. The ruling, which may lead to more stringent EPA rules for emissions, could affect ethanol and biodiesel plants as well as vehicle manufacturers, power companies and refiners.

According to Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, "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 and seizing the opportunity of clean energy reform."

The ruling is a direct result of Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that GHGs are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act. In that case, the Supreme Court found that the EPA administrator must determine whether emissions of GHGs from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.

"Business leaders, security experts, government officials, concerned citizens and the U.S. Supreme Court have called for enduring, pragmatic solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing climate change," Jackson said. "This continues our work towards clean energy reform that will cut GHGs and reduce the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our national security and our economy."

On Dec. 7, Jackson signed two distinct findings regarding GHGs under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act:

Endangerment Finding: The administrator finds that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed GHGs-carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride-in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.

Cause or Contribute Finding: The administrator finds that the combined emissions of these well-mixed GHGs from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines contribute to the GHG pollution which threatens public health and welfare.

According to the EPA, GHGs are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor or elderly; increases in ground-level ozone pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses; as well as other threats to the health and welfare of Americans.