Q&A for EPA Endangerment Determination1. What is EPA actually doing? Why is it called an "endangerment determination"?
EPA is declaring that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are air pollutants that "may be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health and welfare," as defined under the Clean Air Act. Such a determination is necessary before EPA can begin regulating a pollutant.
The definition of a threat to "welfare" in the Clean Air Act is very broad and specifically includes both impacts on climate and weather. It could not be clearer that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to act based on the many serious threats posed by global warming.
Clean Air Act, Section 302(h):
All language referring to effects on welfare includes, but is not limited to, effects on soils, water, crops, vegetation, manmade materials, animals, wildlife, weather, visibility, and climate, damage to and deterioration of property, and hazards to transportation, as well as effects on economic values and on personal comfort and well-being, whether caused by transformation, conversion, or combination with other pollutants.
2. What is the next step? What kind of regulations will happen and when?
Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is now obliged to begin the process of regulating global warming pollution from all sources-vehicles, power plants, factories, etc. The law specifically states that EPA "shall" (i.e. must, not may) regulate dangerous pollutants once they are found to endanger public health or welfare. EPA, however, has wide discretion as to the timing, sequence, and scope of the regulatory process.
EPA is likely to begin by addressing global warming emissions from motor vehicles, which make up almost a third of America's total global warming emissions. A decision on the California clean cars waiver is due in June and it is widely expected that EPA will either allow California and more than a dozen states to move forward with their own regulations or propose a similar national standard. The California standard calls for a 30 percent reduction in global warming emissions from new vehicles by 2016.
Regulations for power plants, factories, and other emitters are likely to come later, and certainly no sooner than at least 12-18 months. Many factors, including pending action by Congress, will determine how and how quickly EPA moves forward with regulations for these sectors.
3. Opponents say this decision will cause schools, apartment buildings, and fast food restaurants like Dunkin' Donuts to be regulated, causing chaos. Is this true?
This is simply a dishonest scare tactic used by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others. While the "endangerment determination" triggers regulatory action by EPA, nobody, including environmentalists, is calling for regulating anything but large emitters (approximately 25,000 tons or more of CO2 per year). When asked about this scare tactic, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said: "It's a myth that we're at a horrible fork in the road, where the EPA is going to regulate cows, Dunkin' Donuts, Pizza Huts, and baby bottles." (http://tinyurl.com/dbc89x)
4. Opponents say this decision will severely harm the economy. Why is this a myth?
This action is part of President Obama's comprehensive clean energy jobs plan. It will help shift U.S. energy production toward cleaner, cheaper sources like the wind and the sun and spur the creation of millions of new clean energy jobs. Building the clean energy economy is the key to getting our economy back on track and reducing our dependence on oil and coal.
EPA will only issue the same kind of common sense regulations for carbon dioxide as it has for dozens of other pollutants for decades-regulations that protect both the environment and help grow the economy. In fact, the law only allows EPA to impose regulations that can be implemented on a cost-effective basis. Suggestions that these regulations will bankrupt companies and devastate the economy are merely scare tactics used by people who will say anything to protect Big Oil, Big Coal, and other polluters.
5. Shouldn't we wait for Congress to pass its own clean energy jobs and climate plan?
We believe that a combination of regulations from EPA and other agencies and a comprehensive new law passed by Congress are necessary to build the clean energy economy and tackle global warming. We and the Obama administration are working very closely with Congress to pass a strong clean energy jobs plan as soon as possible, but it's important that we don't delay action in the meantime. We lost almost a decade under the Bush administration and waiting to act on global warming is a luxury we simply can no longer afford. It is important that the Obama administration get started right away and this decision will allow the EPA to do so.
This decision also shows that President Obama understands the very serious threats posed by global warming, takes them seriously, and is ready to act. It also shows the international community, businesses, and other that there is no longer a question of if or even when the U.S. will begin to act on global warming.
6. Why is this decision happening now?
The Supreme Court, in its landmark April 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision, ruled that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, ordered EPA to determine whether they endangered public health and/or welfare, and, if so, to begin promulgating regulations for motor vehicles and other sources.
After initially promising in May 2007 to issue a new national standard for emissions from motor vehicles, the Bush administration instead chose to drag its feet, completely ignore the Supreme Court's ruling and block California and the other states from moving with their own standards.
President Obama and EPA Administrator Jackson are making good on their promises to let science and the rule of law lead. This announcement fulfills EPA's obligations under the Supreme Court's ruling. It also represents years of careful and considered analysis by the career scientists at EPA and takes tens of thousands of public comments into account.
Some background on the Mass. v. EPA Supreme Court case: (http://tinyurl.com/clf6xv)