EPA Targets Greenhouse Gases

The Environmental Protection Agency suggested Friday that greenhouse gas emissions — including carbon dioxide — endanger human health and welfare. The proposed finding opens the door to new regulations on myriad activities.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. A major shift in environmental policy today from the federal government. The EPA declared that greenhouse gases linked to climate change endanger public health and welfare. Scientists and environmentalists have been waiting years to hear that acknowledgment, and the declaration is a big, first step toward regulating carbon dioxide. It's also a new restriction on almost every part of the economy. Coming up, we'll hear what a warming planet may mean for your health. But first, NPR's Jeff Brady has the details of today's declaration.

JEFF BRADY: The EPA says six gases associated with climate change pose a potential threat to the environment and people. The biggies, you've probably heard of: carbon dioxide and methane. The others are nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride. With that finding, the agency opens the door to regulating everything from the car you drive to the electricity produced for your home. In a written statement, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said, quote: This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations.

Mr. DAVID DONIGER (Policy Director, NRDC): There's a well, duh factor about this.

BRADY: David Doniger is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. He worked on the U.S. Supreme Court case that concluded two years ago that the EPA has the right to regulate greenhouse gases.

Mr. DONIGER: The debate over the science is over. The thing that's been missing, though, is the government needs to make this official statement under the Clean Air Act that there's a danger to our health and to our environment.

BRADY: The EPA under the Bush administration had been reluctant to make that statement for fear of the economic consequences of the agency regulating everything from new cars to power plants. Bill Kovacs with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shares that concern. He worries the EPA could become a huge regulator involved in every part of American life.

Mr. WILLIAM L. KOVACS (Vice president, Environment, Technology & Regulatory Affairs Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce): They would also be regulating office buildings, warehouses, torches. They would be regulating parts of the farm industry - 25 cows produce enough methane to be a regulated entity.

BRADY: Kovacs wants the government to focus its efforts on developing new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as capturing CO2 before it gets into the air. The EPA will now begin a public comment process that could take a year or two before actual regulations are put in place. Meantime, the White House and members of Congress have said they prefer to address the climate issue with so called cap-and-trade legislation.

Democratic Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts says members are working on a bill that would address both the environmental and economic concerns that various interests have. Hearings are set to begin next week.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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