EPA Rules CO2 a Danger, Prepares to Regulate

Published July 1, 2009

The Environmental Protection Agency has decided carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases “endanger public health and welfare,” opening the door for the agency to regulate the gases under the Clean Air Act.

The decision commenced a 60-day comment period, after which EPA will issue a final endangerment ruling.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the finding “confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations,” while EPA’s ruling said evidence human activities cause global warming is “compelling and overwhelming,” according to an EPA press statement.

In addition to carbon dioxide (CO2), the ruling applies to methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

Speculative Claims of Harm

EPA’s ruling does not rest on findings that CO2 is itself a direct threat to humans, but instead that increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere contribute to global warming, which the agency claims endangers human health and welfare.

Jeff Kueter, president of the George Marshall Institute, challenges the scientific basis for the endangerment finding and cautions against climate regulations not firmly rooted in sound science.

“Actions to address climate change must be commensurate with the state of scientific knowledge, and any actions to mitigate climate change must have benefits that exceed their costs,” Kueter said. “Unfortunately, climate change policy rarely meets either standard.”

According to Kueter, actions such as EPA’s endangerment finding are “driven not by a sober assessment of scientific facts but out of fear arising from apocalyptic scenarios based upon computer models, which inadequately represent the workings of the climate, rely on limited observational data, and have yet to be validated.

“Assertions that the science is settled and that climate impacts will be severe are used to justify an extreme set of policy responses,” Kueter added. “An objective review of the available information leads instead to a conclusion that significant unknowns and uncertainties remain in our understanding of the climate system and what the potential impact of change might be.”

S. Fred Singer, president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, agreed, noting, “The proposed EPA initiative is based on shoddy science and would impose a huge economic burden on American households. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and should not be regulated, least of all by EPA under the terms of the Clean Air Act. Congress must stop this unwarranted action by means of legislation, but without committing the same errors as EPA.”

Economic Disaster Foreseen

Ben Lieberman, senior policy analyst in energy and the environment at The Heritage Foundation, says sweeping climate regulations threaten the economy. Regulation of CO2 could become the most far-reaching regulatory grab in the history of EPA, he warns, subjecting everything that emits the gas to the authority of the Clean Air Act.

“The potential economic damage to an already-fragile economy is tremendous,” Lieberman said. “CO2 is a byproduct of [economic] production, so heavily regulating CO2 emissions amounts to no less than a direct assault on our economy.”

Political Consequences Likely

Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, is similarly concerned.

“Obama administration officials, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) brandish the endangerment finding as a legislative hammer. They portray it as a regulatory gun pointed at industry and Republican lawmakers. Their increasingly audible threat: ‘If you won’t give us bipartisan cover to raise your voters’ energy prices, EPA will raise their energy prices, and then you’ll really be in trouble with your voters,'” Lewis said.

Lewis says this is actually a promise by Democrat leaders to commit political suicide—to take sole responsibility for damaging the economy if Republicans won’t help them do it.

“Republicans and Blue Dogs need to oppose cap-and-trade as the gigantic energy tax it is,” said Lewis. “Once Hill Democrats realize they will be sole proprietors of the economic and energy price impacts, they’ll probably let cap-and-trade die in committee and quietly plead with Obama to employ every trick in the book to rein in EPA.”

Drew Thornley ([email protected]) writes from Texas.