From the New York Times
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that will lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the United States.
The E.P.A. said the science supporting the proposed endangerment finding was “compelling and overwhelming.” The ruling initiates a 60-day comment period before any proposals for regulations governing emissions of heat-trapping gases are published.
Although the finding had been expected, supporters and critics said its issuance was a significant moment in the debate on global warming. Many Republicans in Congress and industry spokesmen warned that regulation of carbon dioxide emissions would raise energy costs and kill jobs; Democrats and environmental advocates said the decision was long overdue and would bring long-term social and economic benefits.
The E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said: “This finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. Fortunately, it follows President Obama’s call for a low-carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation.”
The United States has come under fierce international criticism for trailing other industrialized nations in regulating emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants tied to global warming. With this move and steps by Congress toward a cap-and-trade system to curb heat-trapping gases, the American government can now point to progress as nations begin to write a new international treaty on climate change.
The European Union already has a system of trading permits for industrial emissions of heat-trapping gases in which polluters can meet limits either by reducing emissions or buying credits from more efficient producers. Europe also has a system for regulating emissions of heat-trapping gases from vehicles.
Japan and several other nations have programs limiting tailpipe pollution that are more stringent than the limits expected to be proposed by the E.P.A.
The E.P.A. announcement did not contain specific targets for reductions of heat-trapping gases or new requirements for energy efficiency in vehicles, power plants or industry. Those will come after a period of comment and rule-making or in any legislation that emerges from Congress.
Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, said the agency’s regulation of heat-trapping gases would be expensive and cumbersome.
“The Obama administration’s actions today,” Mr. Bond said, “will do more to endanger families, farmers and workers with new energy taxes and lost jobs than it does to protect the environment.”
As the E.P.A. begins the process of regulating the climate-altering substances under the Clean Air Act, Congress is writing wide-ranging energy and climate legislation that would alter, combine with or override the actions taken by the agency. Mr. Obama and Ms. Jackson have said they much prefer that Congress address global warming rather than have the E.P.A. tackle it through administrative action that could be subject to lawsuits.
When the agency announced its finding, Mr. Obama was en route from Mexico City to Trinidad and Tobago for a meeting of Western Hemisphere nations. The agency made its decision public in a news release and an 133-page explanation of the scientific and legal basis of its proposed finding.
In 2007, the Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. E.P.A., ordered the agency to determine whether heat-trapping gases harmed the environment and public health. The case was brought by states and environmental groups to force the E.P.A. to use the Clean Air Act to regulate heat-trapping gases in vehicle emissions.
Agency scientists were virtually unanimous in determining that those gases caused such harm, but top Bush administration officials suppressed their work and took no action.
In his first days in office, Mr. Obama promised to review the case and act quickly if the findings were justified. The announcement Friday was the fruit of that review.
According to the E.P.A. announcement, the finding was based on rigorous scientific analysis of six gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride — that have been widely studied by scientists. The agency said its studies showed that concentrations of the gases were at unprecedented levels as a result of human activity and that it was highly likely that those elevated levels were responsible for an increase in average temperatures and other climate changes.
Among the ill effects of rising atmospheric concentrations of the gases, the agency found, were increased drought, more heavy downpours and flooding, more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires, a steeper rise in sea levels and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.
Environmental advocates applauded the decision, which they had sought for years.
Auto companies, utilities and others tied to polluting emissions had long dreaded this day but generally reacted with caution because the regulatory process had just begun and they hoped to address their concerns in the legislation before Congress.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said its members were developing cars and trucks to meet the expected tougher emissions standards.