EPA Finds Greenhouse Gases Threaten The Public Health And Welfare Of The American People

On December 7, 2009, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued a final ruling which finds greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of the American people. The EPA made its finding pursuant to section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act. The EPA also found the combined emissions of greenhouse gases from motor vehicles contribute to the threat.

The EPA’s findings are in response to the 2007 decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the Court determined greenhouse gases are air pollutants that are covered by the Clean Air Act. The Court directed the EPA to determine whether emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles either cause or contribute to air pollution that endangers public health or welfare.

The EPA Administrator defined the air pollution referred to in section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act as “the mix of six long-lived and directly-emitted greenhouse gases.” These gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The EPA concluded that elevated concentration of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere endanger current and future generations. The EPA Administrator’s findings will be effective 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register.

The EPA has identified the key effects that support its decision that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere endanger public health. The EPA noted that increases in temperature will increase the likelihood of heat waves and weather-related deaths. The existence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere impacts air quality and increases the potential for allergenic illnesses. Storm impacts are likely to become more severe and heavy rainfall events are expected to increase. The EPA observed that the poor, elderly, disabled, people in poor health, people that live alone, and indigenous populations will be especially vulnerable to climate impacts.

The EPA also identified key effects that support its determination that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will endanger the welfare of current and future generations. The global sea level is likely to continue to rise resulting in an increase risk of storm surge and flooding in coastal areas. Rising temperatures will decrease the size of snow packs and affect water supplies. Climate change will also impact agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, and energy use.

The EPA concludes the “scientific evidence is compelling that elevated concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases are the root cause of recently observed climate change.” The EPA observes that the climate is warming and it asserts that most of the global warming in the last 50 years is likely due to human-induced increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the EPA’s website, its findings “do not impose any requirements on industry or other entities.” (Emphasis added.) The EPA’s action in issuing the findings is, however, a "prerequisite to finalizing the EPA’s proposed greenhouse gas emission standards for light-duty vehicles.” (Emphasis added.)

In September 2009, the EPA and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration jointly proposed a rule to establish a program that would improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases. The program covers light-duty vehicles for model years 2012 through 2016. Under the program the “overall light-duty fleet would reach 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) in 2016, if all reductions were made through fuel economy improvements.” The proposed greenhouse standards for light duty vehicles would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 950 million metric tons and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles covered by the program.


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