This made the headlines last Friday as the US Environmental Protection Agency declared that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are now considered as pollutants in the country.
This represent a dramatic paradigm shift for the second most emitting greenhouses gases country. It also brings a lot of hope concerning a massive and fast climate change mitigation campaign there.
Indeed if these gases are regarded as pollutants, all US administrations will have to limit these emissions as well as the whole country. A bright prospect.
As the Financial Times noted:
Barack Obama’s administration yesterday took its first concrete step towards regulating greenhouse gas emissions by declaring carbon dioxide a danger to human health and welfare.
It clears the way for the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate CO 2 emissions under existing air pollution laws, without the need for fresh legislation.
It appeared designed to increase pressure on Congress to pass new laws to tackle global warming, amid resistance on Capitol Hill to measures that would increase energy costs for businesses and consumers.
The US president wants progress before United Nations climate change talks in Copenhagen in December to signal US commitment and encourage other countries, particularly China and India, to make concessions.
The move will spark a furious lobbying effort during a 60-day consultation period from industries that stand to lose out.
Bill Kovacs, vice-president of the US Chamber of Commerce, said business would react very badly to any attempt to “let the EPA run the economy”. He said using the threat of EPA action to coerce Congress was “the worst possible way to make policy”.
The EPA has been considering its approach since a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 found it was entitled to regulate CO 2 emissions under the Clean Air Act.
George W. Bush’s administration declined to take up the responsibility but the White House this week gave the green light for the EPA to start preparing the ground for regulation.
The Obama administration would prefer to tackle climate change through new legislation to set up a cap-and-trade system similar to the one used to regulate carbon emissions in Europe. But the Clean Air Act provides a fallback option if Congress fails to act.
The EPA said the science pointing to man-made pollution as a cause of global warming was “compelling and overwhelming”, with CO 2 emissions from burning fossil fuels the main cause. In a finding that qualifies CO 2 for regulation, it said the gas posed “a threat to public health and welfare”.
Environmental groups cheered the decision, seeing it as a reassuring signal of the Obama administration’s commitment to cutting carbon emissions .
Joe Mendelson, global warming policy director at the National Wildlife Federation, called the EPA’s move “the single largest step the federal government has taken to fight climate change”, while David Doniger, a policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the EPA’s decision had “gone a long way to restore respect for both science and law”.
Kevin Holewinski, head of law firm Jones Day’s environmental practice, said the move gave the Obama administration something tangible to take to the UN talks in December. “It gives him ammunition. to say to China, India and other countries, ‘we are doing something about this and we need your help to do it too’.”