Obama EPA May Regulate CO2 for the First Time Ever


Photo via Greenpeace

The new incarnation of the EPA isn't wasting any time making headlines—in the last week alone, it announced that it's reconsidering a key Bush era ruling, and it's filed a massive lawsuit on a Louisiana coal plant to get it to install proper pollution controls. And now, it could be getting ready to make another, truly historic move—to regulate carbon dioxide for the first time as a pollutant that endangers public health.Regulating Carbon Emissions?
According to the New York Times, the EPA is under orders from the Supreme Court to determine "whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant that endangers public health and welfare." EPA staff is evidently researching the latest evidence, and getting ready to issue an endangerment finding—and the organization is expected to act by early April.

If the EPA deems that CO2 is indeed a dangerous pollutant, it would be subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act, and it would "set off one of the most extensive regulatory rule makings in history."

It would be a drastic change on a number of fronts, according to the NY Times:

The decision . . . would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress."

If CO2 is indeed ruled a pollutant dangerous to public health, in theory, it could lead not only to what's essentially a ban on new coal plants, but it would give the EPA grounds to dismantle existing ones.

Not Entirely Optimistic
But plenty of people have their doubts that such regulation will occur any time soon, or ever. David Roberts at Grist, for example notes: (via CSMonitor)

If a certain method of regulating CO2 under the Clean Air Act would produce a situation in which the EPA has literally unlimited power over the US economy, virtually every building and business in the US is forced to apply for air pollution permits, and some pollutants are being mandated and prohibited simultaneously … then the EPA probably won’t use that method.

He believes that the EPA doesn't really intend to regulate at all, that it's more of a threat made to drum up support for a cap and trade system instead.

There's still much that remains to unfold here—any scenario where the EPA could regulate any carbon emitting plant, business, industry, or, hell, machine, does seem absurd. How could the EPA possibly manage consistent regulation at this point?

Nonetheless, it might be the most important upcoming landmark in environmental politics. As Roberts writes, "how the Obama EPA chooses to play this card will have huge, huge effects, not only on its efforts to reduce emissions generally but on its efforts to build support for a carbon pricing system specifically. This is one to keep a very close eye on."

More on EPA CO2 Regulation:
EPA Gets Coal Ash Hazardous Waste Regulation Do Over in Obama ...
EPA Provides New E-Waste Guidelines, But Zero New Regulations
Houston Mayor Attacks EPA over Air Pollution : TreeHugger

Tags: Barack Obama | Carbon Dioxide | EPA | Pollution

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