By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a long-expected ruling Monday that greenhouse gases threaten public health, giving the Obama administration power to regulate smokestack and tailpipe emissions that feed global warming.
Coming near the start of the international climate change conference now underway in Copenhagen, some experts said the ruling tells the other conference participants the U.S. can now control emissions whether or not the U.S. Congress passes legislative caps.
“The U.S. is telling the international community we will act even if Congress doesn’t get its act together,” says David Bookbinder of the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C., a member of the legal team that won a 2007 Supreme Court decision that said greenhouse gases are pollutants and subject to Clean Air Act regulation. The ruling required the EPA to decide if global warming threatens human health and if so, to start controlling the emissions.
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“The overwhelming amount of evidence shows the threat is real,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said Monday.
The finding covers six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, produced as a byproduct of burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Jackson cited global warming risks of heat waves, asthma and rising seas, among others, in making the finding.
No emission regulations spring immediately from the announcement, but the finding opens the door to stricter car and truck rules expected in March and cement manufacturing rules expected in June.
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded it is “highly likely” that greenhouse gases largely contributed to a roughly 1-degree Fahrenheit rise in global average temperatures since 1905, and likely will lead to a 3- to 7-degree rise by 2100.
Jackson said emission limits were intended for large sources of greenhouse gases, those burning hundreds of train cars of coal each year for example, “not small or medium businesses.”
Melissa McHenry, a spokeswoman for American Electric Power in Columbus, Ohio, a $14.4 billion power company, said the announcement signals the need for energy legislation, “rather than the clumsy tool of regulation,” to address greenhouse gas emissions. “We’ve expected this announcement for months.”
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