Coinciding with the start of the international climate conference in Copenhagen, the Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday its finding that greenhouse gas emissions are indeed dangerous to human health. This finding allows the EPA to begin regulating carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act.
"This administration will not ignore science or the law any longer nor will we ignore the responsibility that we owe to our children and our grandchildren," EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said during a press conference. She further stated that efforts to curb pollutants were not only "authorized" but "obligated" under the Clean Air Act of 2007.
The EPA's stance will strengthen President Obama's negotiating position at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen, a position that has been weakened by the lack of strong action to fight global warming from the U.S.
Promising headway has already been made in the weeks leading up to the talks, which began yesterday and run through December 18th. Both China and India stepped up with commitments to curb emissions, 40% and 20% below 2005 levels, respectively. President Obama has pledged a cut of 17% below 2005 levels by 2020. This goal falls short of the targets scientists tell us we need to hit in order to stabilize the climate, but it is the first time the United States has considered pledging to cut emissions in an international deal.
With new power to regulate six greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, the EPA can now help cut U.S. emissions without waiting for Congress to pass a cap-and-trade bill. President Obama has indicated that he prefers this legislative approach to curbing climate change, but the EPA finding gives him another weapon in the fight against global warming. The finding could spur the Senate to get its act together and pass a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill.
In some ways the EPA finding can be met with a collective "duh." It is no surprise to scientists and most Americans that greenhouse gas pollution is bad for our health. But what the finding is actually quite momentous in what it enables: the Obama administration can now begin curbing carbon pollution without waiting on Congress.