EPA Submits GHG Endangerment Finding to White House

A proposal submitted to the White House by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will likely claim that greenhouse gases (GHGs) endanger public health and welfare, a widely circulated internal EPA document shows. That finding could have broad implications, including prompting a decision by the Obama administration to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA confirmed to POWERnews that it had prepared and sent to the White House a proposed finding, though it declined to comment on whether or not it had determined if and how GHGs endanger public health and welfare. A spokesperson said Tuesday that the matter was “internal and deliberative.”

However, the Guidance-Option Selection Briefing (PDF), an internal EPA document that was widely circulated on Monday, pointed to a positive endangerment finding both for public health and welfare.

The EPA has been conducting since January this year a scientific review, as directed by the Supreme Court in the landmark case Massachusetts v. EPA (2007). The court had then said that carbon dioxide met the Clean Air Act definition of an air pollutant, but it remanded the decision of whether to regulate the gas to the EPA. It specified that the EPA’s decision must be based on statutory criteria—that is, whether or not endangerment exists, or whether scientific uncertainty precluded the EPA from making a reasoned judgment.

The Bush administration in December 2007 submitted a similar proposal concerning GHG emissions caused by the transportation sector that made a positive endangerment finding for public welfare (not public health)—but it withdrew the proposal following passage of the Energy Independence and Security Act. Later, in July 2008, former EPA Administrator Steven Johnson sidestepped the issue by publishing the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR). That document made no proposal regarding endangerment; rather, it sought comments on the implications of making an endangerment finding and the underlying science.

The proposal submitted to the White House on Friday does not propose any requirements on any GHG sources, said EPA Press Secretary Adora Andy in a e-mailed statement to POWERnews Tuesday. “The proposed finding does not impose any new regulatory burdens on any projects, let alone those funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” she added.

The briefing document, dated March 6, 2009, indicates that the final agency review should have concluded last week and that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson will sign the proposal on April 16. A 60-day public comment period and two public hearings are expected to follow before the document goes final.

The document also divulges the health effects that could be potentially caused by elevated GHG concentration. These include direct effects, though it notes that “The range of projected ambient concentrations of CO2 and other GHGs will remain well below published thresholds for any direct adverse health effects, such as respiratory or toxic effects.” Other ill health effects could be caused by severe heat waves, air quality changes (as a result of ozone pollution), while disease and injury could rise from climate change–related extreme events such as storms, droughts, and fires.

Source: EPA, E&E Publishing LLC, POWERnews