Thursday, March 26, 2009
The Environmental Protection Agency has taken the first steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Late last week, the EPA submitted an “endangerment finding” for greenhouse gases to the Office of Management and Budget. The finding, once approved by the budget office, will allow federal regulation of carbon dioxide and other emissions from motor vehicles, power plants, oil refineries, and other sources. The public will have a chance to weigh in before any rules are finalized.
“This finding will officially end the era of denial on global warming,” says Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the House’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “Instead of allowing political interference in scientific and legal decisions the Obama administration is letting the sun shine in on the dangerous realities of global warming.”
Markey’s referring to the Bush administration’s attempts to ignore a finding that such pollutants endanger public health and welfare.
Nearly two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act’s capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,’” and must be regulated.
A couple of months later, then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson asked Jason Burnett to serve as EPA’s associate deputy administrator charged with responding to the Supreme Court’s decision and developing climate change policy.
In December 2007, Burnett sent an e-mail to the White House budget office for review. It contained the finding that greenhouse gases endanger public welfare. The Bush administration refused to open the e-mail, “because in opening my e-mail, they would be in receipt of a finding of public endangerment,” and this would require federal regulation to curb emissions, Burnett told the Weekly in an August 2008 interview.
Burnett subsequently quit his job, blew the whistle, and triggered a Congressional investigation. He now lives in Carmel-by-the-Sea.
A report issued in the summer of 2008 by Markey’s committee found that the Bush administration at the highest levels had decided to use the Clean Air Act to regulate global warming emissions not only from vehicles, but also from power plants, refineries, and other so-called stationary sources – but reversed the decision in the face of strong opposition from ExxonMobil and others in the oil industry, as well as at least one senior adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.
“What EPA is moving forward with here is, in most important ways, the finding we had produced,” Burnett says. “Unfortunately, the Bush White House wasn’t even willing to acknowledge receipt of that finding. The Obama administration is willing to move forward with aggressive plans for addressing climate change.”
Burnett says he expects the budget office to fast track the finding so it will be finalized before December’s Copenhagen Climate Conference – at which world leaders will draft the Copenhagen Protocol, a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, to prevent climate change. “After this finding is finalized, it will create the legal obligation that the U.S. begin regulating greenhouse gases,” he says, “and that will enable the negotiators going to the Copenhagen meeting to say, ‘The U.S. is not only planning to address greenhouse gasses, but is legally mandated to do so.’”
Thankfully, Burnett says, the Obama administration opens its e-mails.