The Day You've Been (Anxiously) Waiting For

Greenhouse gases do threaten health, EPA reports

What many of us expected or dreaded has now come to pass: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on April 17 issued a proposed finding that six greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride—pose a potential threat to public health or welfare.

The EPA press release noted that the agency conducted a "rigorous, peer-review scientific analysis of the six gases that have been the subject of intensive analysis by scientists around the world."

That review found that "the science clearly shows that concentrations of these gases are at unprecedented levels as a result of human emissions, and these high levels are very likely the cause of the increase in average temperatures and other changes in our climate."

Findings from a recent EPA study, "Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on Ground-Level Ozone," suggest that climate change may lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone, the release stated, adding that other impacts include, but are not limited to:

  • increased drought;
  • More heavy downpours and flooding;
  • more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires;
  • greater sea level rise;
  • more intense storms; and
  • harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.

To offer your comments, go here.

The agency has scheduled two public hearings on the proposed finding:

  • May 18, EPA Potomac Yard Conference Center, Arlington, Va.;
  • May 21, Bell Harbor International Conference Center, Seattle, Wash.

Notwithstanding the required regulatory process, President Obama and Jackson have indicated their preference for comprehensive legislation to address this issue and create the framework for a clean energy economy.

The Environmental Defense Fund said in a press release that once the agency finalizes its determination, it may begin developing emission standards for new motor vehicles and new coal-fired power plants. Other groups warned that the coming regulation would cost consumers, affect U.S. competitiveness, and take away jobs. The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association reiterated its concerns: "In comments submitted to EPA in December 2008 addressing its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on greenhouse gas regulation, NPRA expressed concerns with the models used by the agency as well as its acknowledged lack of ability to characterize climate change effects on health or welfare, which significantly complicates understanding the net effects. “Before moving forward with regulation, the United States must ensure that other major global contributors are similarly committed to reducing their ambient greenhouse gas concentrations. U.S. efforts would be for naught if the Administration fails to receive such commitments, and American economic competitiveness would be compromised," the association's press release stated..

The House of Representatives also is looking at the issue with the introduction of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. The House Energy and Commerce Committee next week will begin hearings and move to vote on the bill by Memorial Day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she intends to bring the bill to the House floor this year.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), committee chair, told Bloomberg Television that legislation would supersede EPA regulation.

In addition to threatening human health, the review found national security implications resulting from climate change, the release said. The agency pointed to an increasing scarcity of resources, including water, could incite escalating violence in destabilized. This lack of resources also could drive a massive migration to more stabilized regions of the world.

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