EPA to regulate greenhouse gases?

C&I Issue 8, 2009

In a surprise move, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared that six greenhouse gases pose a potential threat to public health. The decision represents a sharp break with George Bush’s presidency, which was reluctant to publicly acknowledge climate change as a serious problem. It is likely to add to growing momentum to legislate and control greenhouse gas emissions.


‘This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations,’ says recent Barack Obama appointee, Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator (C&I 2009, 2, 5). ‘This pollution problem has a solution – one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.’


Environmental groups welcomed the move, but industry responded cautiously. A bill to control greenhouse gas emissions using, amongst other things a cap and trade programme (C&I 2009, 7, 5), is already making its way through Congress, although there are doubts about its effectiveness (see page 6).


The announcement comes on the back of a scientific review ordered by the US Supreme Court in 2007. The EPA’s review identified six greenhouse gases as posing a danger to human health – carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. The analysis suggests that climate change can have effects on human health that are felt rapidly, such as an increase in ground level ozone, which affects those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma. Other longer term hazards to human health include drought, flooding, sea level rises and more intense storms. The EPA has previously put forward evidence, during the last administration, that greenhouse gases are hazardous to people’s health, but the results were ignored.


The EPA’s findings could mean that these six gases will be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Nevertheless, before that can happen there is a two month public consultation period.


However, American Chemical Council (ACC) president and ceo Cal Dooley, described the Clean Air Act as the wrong vehicle to enact EPA to regulate greenhouse gases? climate change legislation. ‘Given the national implications of carbon dioxide regulation by EPA and the interdependent nature of climate and energy issues, climate policy should be discussed and developed in Congress in tandem with energy policy.’


The ACC reiterated the importance of the chemical industry in providing solutions to climate change, such as solar panels, wind turbines, lithiumion batteries and building insulation.


Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources called the Clean Air Act a ‘blunt instrument’. She added that at a time of global economic weakness it would be an additional burden to US businesses.


In a statement, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) said it was ‘deeply concerned’ about the impact of the EPA’s decision. The AFBF warned that many farmers could be forced out of business by moves to regulate greenhouse gases produced by farming, such as methane or nitrous oxide.

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