OMB Criticizes EPA Finding on Greenhouse Gases

A memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget dated late last month is critical of the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health. The memo questions the science behind the finding and suggests it would lower the bar for what kind of pollution endangers the public.

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A White House document has reignited the debate over the whether the government should regulate greenhouse gases. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a preliminary determination, ruling that six greenhouse gases endanger public health. As NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports, the document that's come to light raises questions about the EPA's findings.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: The document was quietly posted on the Web site where the government lists proposed regulations. It didn't get much attention until a Capitol Hill hearing this morning. A Republican senator, John Barrasso from Wyoming, grilled EPA administrator Lisa Jackson about it.

Senator JOHN BARRASSO (Republican, Wyoming): It's here, nine pages. This is a smoking gun.

SHOGREN: The document is a compilation of comments from about a dozen agencies that was put together by the White House Office of Management and Budget. It suggests that the EPA finding could lower the bar for what kind of pollution endangers the public. That could potentially force the agency to regulate noise and electromagnetic fields. It also warns that regulating carbon dioxide could have serious economic consequences, especially for small businesses and small communities. And as Barrasso pointed out, the document disagrees with the way the EPA interprets the science.

Sen. BARRASSO: Counsel in this administration repeatedly, repeatedly questions the lack of scientific support that you have for this proposed finding.

Ms. LISA JACKSON (Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency): I disagree with several of the characterizations.

SHOGREN: Jackson says her agency relied on strong scientific analysis when it determined that greenhouse gases harm health and welfare by fouling air quality and increasing heat waves, wildfires and droughts. She also said her finding does not automatically require the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, and if the agency does, it won't target small businesses and public services.

Ms. JACKSON: We, under the Clean Air Act, have the potential to regulate all those sources you talk about now for other contaminants - schools and hospitals and farms and Dunkin' Donuts - and we don't.

SHOGREN: White House officials say the document does not represent the official administration policy. But spokesman Ben LaBolt stressed that the Obama administration does not want the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It wants Congress to pass a bill that would cap emissions and set up a market-based program, giving financial incentives to cut pollution.

Mr. BEN LABOLT (Obama Administration Spokesman): The legislative path is the one that we are actively pursuing.

SHOGREN: Some industry representatives say the White House document shows that the EPA may be may be stretching the science to increase its regulatory might. Some environmentalists were flabbergasted that such a document came out of the Obama administration. They say there's no question: greenhouse gases endanger public health.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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