ER: Where’s the EPA Going with Airliners and Automobiles?
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– EVENT REPORT –
Where’s the EPA Going with Airliners and Automobiles?
In decisive and well publicized move to strengthen the U.S. position on Global Warming, just in time for the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) threatens to upstage the U.S. Congress by stepping in (with a compliant Department of Transport) to begin placing regulations of it’s own on Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions in America. This event has also allowed Barack Obama to maintain his political poise and environmental commitments when assuring the World that the United States is indeed prepared to take clear and decisive actions against Global Warming. The significant risk in establishing this alternate legal route to the regulation of Greenhouse Gases (GhG’s) via the EPA, rather than waiting for any similar Bills to finally clear Congress, means that a political gauntlet has been tossed down that could either spur U.S. lawmakers to regain their role in this fight, or possibly generate a severe backlash from those who see this as an affront to their authority and who can also control the EPA’s funding and functions, depending upon who picks up this tossed challenge and rises to the occasion.
This bold opening move is based in a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (from a deeply divided decision) that the Clean Air Act granted EPA the authority to regulate automobile emissions, and furthermore that GhG’s could fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants according to subsequent EPA reports. At the risk of sideswiping industrialists and lawmakers throughout the land, on December 7/09, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came forward to issue its formal findings that greenhouse gasses (GhG’s), including carbon dioxide emissions, do indeed “threaten the public health and welfare of the American people”. This statement effectively sets the stage for the EPA to regulate a list of GhG under provisions of the 1970 Clean Air Act, and CO2 is now at the top of that confirmed list.
Under the provisions of the 1970 Clean Air Act, EPA is obligated to address declared pollutants. Jackson explained that the “premise” of the Act is that “once you know you have a pollutant and you know it’s endangering public welfare, then EPA must act.” The question remains what is teh EPa’s next move?
Americans are now poised to at least expect regulations for “light-duty” vehicles (for now) since the EPA has only officially cited these among all on-road vehicles as contributors (23%) of total GhG emissions. Obviously the EPA isn’t willing to tread on too many toes (yet) by citing heavy duty or commercial transport vehicles during this opening volley.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson demonstrated additional restraint in acknowledging that top-down regulations would be more costly than a cap and trade system, saying, “Legislation is so important because it will combine the most efficient, most economy-wide, least costly, least disruptive way to deal with carbon dioxide pollution,” she recently stated, adding that “we get further faster without top-down regulation.”
Meanwhile the Airline Industry is barely exhaling any CO2 at all as it holds it’s breathe, and waits for the first cards to be dealt in this new round in the political battle against GhG’s in America.
A spokesperson told ATWOnline, “If the EPA decides it wants to regulate GHGs from aircraft, it must first make the type of findings that it just made for automobiles,” . The EPA for its part, has already clearly established a premise for citing additional contributors to GhG’s.
This has Airlines and Automobile manufacturers, and any other major suppliers of the Transportation sector, very concerned about where things are moving to in the future.
Even if the U.S. Congress is unable to pass its contentious “Cap-and-Trade” climate change legislation, the House of Representatives has already passed a climate bill in June’09, and now the Senate is considering its own version of such actions. The Air Transport Association (ATA) has already spoken up and has warned that both versions of such Bills could impose billions of dollars in additional ANNUAL costs upon an already heavily taxed airline industry.
An ATA spokesperson is paraphrased as saying, “Commercial airlines contribute only about 2% of the US Greenhouse Gas (GhG) inventory. . .It’s not clear that the EPA’s findings which state that automobiles ’cause or contribute’ to endangerment would necessarily also mean that the EPA would make such a finding for aviation as well”.
It’s hard for the layperson to imagine GHG’s being something you can measure in an “inventory“, however it’s clear that the EPA is counting on playing a numbers game (at least for awhile) to avoid getting into any legal messes, or locking horns with Congress as it continues to seek stringent regulation of at least CO2 emissions…if not any of the other GhG’s on it’s list.
President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa P.Jackson have publicly stated that they support a legislative solution to the problem of climate change and Congress’ efforts to pass comprehensive climate legislation. However, climate change is threatening public health and welfare, and it is critical that EPA fulfill its obligation to respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined that greenhouse gases fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants.
It’s entirely unclear when or how the EPA will start enacting regulations based on their findings, but act they must if they are to support the position that they’ve provided Obama in time for Copenhagen, otherwise they risk losing even more credibility for the U.S. than it had to begin with.