On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the six principal greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride – to be air pollutants that pose a risk to public health and welfare.
This is the first step for the U.S. toward addressing its contribution to global warming, and it’s about time.
Five years ago, several states and environmental groups sued the EPA to force it to define greenhouse gases as air pollution under the Clean Air Act. In turn, the EPA argued that it did not have the authority to regulate global warming.
The suit was eventually appealed to the Supreme Court. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that the EPA was obligated to evaluate whether greenhouse gases were a danger to the public and the environment.
That ruling was practically ignored by then-EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, who echoed the Bush administration’s firm opposition to any regulation of greenhouse gases.
President Obama, however, promised action on the case early in his presidency, which led to Friday’s announcement.
The EPA’s findings are significant because they put pressure on Congress to develop legislation that will comprehensively address global warming and the transition to a clean energy economy.
The EPA did not include any regulations or emissions targets in its announcement, but it will soon begin regulating motor vehicles for emissions of greenhouse gases. In the future, regulations may expand to include power plants, oil refineries and factories.
Both Obama and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson have called on lawmakers to guide the regulatory process.
The work in Washington has already started.
The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 is draft legislation proposed by Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward Markey, D-Mass. The bill includes provisions for increasing energy efficiency, developing clean energy and establishing a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.
A cap-and-trade system in the U.S. has been a highly contentious issue, criticized by opponents for being costly and harmful to American competitiveness in the global market.
The European Union established a cap-and-trade system in 2005 to meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol and has estimates that compliance will cost about $4 billion per year, which is less than 0.1 percent of its GDP.
While that’s not much, it has caused energy prices to increase and has generated some turmoil in industries there.
The cap-and-trade system is appealing, however, because it is the most cost effective way of regulating carbon emissions.
Now that the U.S. has committed to controlling greenhouse gasses, the question is no longer should we regulate carbon emissions but how do we go about it?
The announcement Friday marks a milestone in the debate in America about global warming. Some are even calling it the end of an era, including Markey.
Unfortunately, the era of denial is not over yet.
Many people have expressed fear that the EPA’s findings will lead inevitably to a tax on breathing and that trees and other plant life will starve due to carbon dioxide shortages. Others have argued that because global warming would necessitate government regulation, it is a physical impossibility.
Here is my challenge to skeptics. The findings are now in a 60-day public comment period before they are made official. If you can debunk the theory of global warming, contact the EPA within the next 60 days and do so.
If, however, you cannot, allow the rest of us to continue the debate on how best to mitigate the threat of global warming so we can begin what we should have been doing five years ago.
Erik Anderson is a senior natural resources major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.