The EPA report, “Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on Ground-Level Ozone,” concludes that there is a potential for climate change to make ozone pollution worse in some regions, and crucially, that future ozone management decisions may need to account for the possible impacts of climate change. Many believe that the EPA's finding now paves the way for some kind of carbon legislation - such as Cap and Trade. It is also a real break from the Bush era that never really embraced climate change politics, and gives the US new credibility in the run up to COP 15 in Copenhagen later this year.
Even if Obama's favoured Cap and Trade legislation proves impossible to push through both the House and the Senate, the EPA's "endangerment finding" now gives it - in theory - legal authority to demand cuts in emissions regardless - following a 60-day public review period. That means the agency can begin regulating power plants and chemical and cement factories without waiting for Congress to undergo the process of turning a climate change bill that was unveiled last month into law.
“This [the EPA's] finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. Fortunately, it follows President Obama’s call for a low carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation,” said Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This pollution problem has a solution – one that will create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.”
The proposed finding, which now moves to a public comment period, identified 6 greenhouse gases that pose a potential threat: Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride – that have been the subject of intensive analysis by scientists around the world. According to the EPA, the science "clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate".
The proposed finding does not include any proposed regulations. Before taking any steps to reduce greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, EPA says it would conduct an appropriate process and consider stakeholder input. Notwithstanding this required regulatory process, both Obama and Jackson have repeatedly indicated their preference for comprehensive legislation to address this issue and "create the framework for a clean energy economy." However, any regulation from the EPA effectively provides another option that the Obama Administration may use to tackle Carbon - should the legislative route through Congress prove too problematic.
While any such legislation would sail through the US House of Representatives, it may stumble in the US Senate. Last week the Senate voted on a procedural order which provides (in effect) that the cap-and-trade legislation will need 60 out of the 100 votes in the Senate to pass. This would be difficult to achieve, hence the importance of the EPA's finding.