“Climate change has now become a household issue,” said Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), adding that the evidence of climate change was real and increasingly alarming. “This administration will not ignore science or the law any longer, nor will we ignore the responsibility we owe to our children and our grandchildren.”
The announcement gives the EPA a legal basis for capping emissions from major sources such as coal power plants, as well as cars. Jackson said she hoped it would help to spur a deal in Copenhagen.
The EPA action had been seen as a backstop should Congress fail to pass climate change law. Obama and other officials had repeatedly said they would prefer to pass legislation, but that prospect has grown increasingly remote. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change bill in June, but the proposals have stalled in the Senate.
Jackson said the EPA’s regulations, which would come into effect from next spring, would not be too onerous, applying only to facilities emitting more than 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
The oil and manufacturing industries, which have opposed climate change action, said the move was overly politicised, and warned that the new regulations would be tied up in lawsuits.
The US Chamber of Commerce, also sceptical on global warming, said the move would hurt the economy. “An endangerment finding from the EPA could result in a top-down, command-and-control regime that will choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project,” said Thomas Donohue, the chamber’s president.
Jackson is to address the Copenhagen meeting on Wednesday, while Obama will join more than 100 other world leaders in the Danish capital on the final day of the conference, on 18 December.
The endangerment declaration dates from a supreme court decision in 2007 ordering the EPA to make a ruling on whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions were a pollutant subject to the Clean Air Act of the 1970s.