Carbon Dioxide: Should EPA Wait On Congress?

February 2, 2009  

Carbon Dioxide: Should EPA Wait On Congress?
Should the Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, since the Supreme Court's 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA ruling declared that the agency has that authority? Or should regulators wait for a law that explicitly controls CO2 and other greenhouse gases?

-- Margaret Kriz,


Eileen Claussen's Post:

The time for waiting has passed.

EPA cannot and should not wait for Congress to act because the highest court in the land has already spoken on this issue (Massachusetts et al. v. EPA et al.) and has stated clearly that, counter to the position taken by the Bush Administration, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases fit the meaning of air pollutants under the existing Clean Air Act and are subject to regulation.  The Supreme Court left to EPA to decide if such emissions may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.  Given the overwhelming scientific evidence linking greenhouse gases to climate change and the potential damages that result, EPA has effectively no choice but to move forward in issuing an “endangerment” finding and to begin considering use of the tools contained in the Act to reduce the harm from climate change.

EPA’s extensive Advance Notice of  Proposed Rulemaking underscores the challenges of applying existing Clean Air Act provisions to greenhouse gas emissions. In moving forward, the Act does afford EPA some discretion, and EPA must use it wisely -- setting priorities and reasonable timetables, and avoiding overreaching and cumbersome regulations.  First up on EPA’s plate should be to complete its mandatory greenhouse gas reporting rule and to reassess its denial of California’s request for a waiver to set alternative standards for greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles.

While EPA responds to the Supreme Court’s mandate, now is also the time for Congress to step up, meet its challenge and pass an economy-wide, market-based cap-and-trade policy.  Continued delay in passing legislation only increases the risk of environmental damage and undermines the regulatory certainty that businesses need if they are to begin investing in the clean energy future we seek.  

The challenge for all is to act now to begin putting our country and the world on an aggressive path toward responsibly reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases.