In his first big White House announcement on global warming, President Barack Obama focused yesterday on two issues lingering from the Bush administration: fuel economy and California's bid to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles.
But not far behind is another item unresolved from Bush's tenure -- U.S. EPA's "endangerment finding" linking climate change to increased risks for public health and welfare.
In an e-mail to EPA employees Friday, Lisa Jackson, the agency's new administrator, signaled it would be a matter of time before she acts on the Supreme Court's nearly 2-year-old decision that rebuked the Bush administration by ordering another study on the science connecting greenhouse gases to increased threats to public health or welfare.
"As Congress does its work [on global warming legislation], we will move ahead to comply with the Supreme Court's decision recognizing EPA's obligation to address climate change under the Clean Air Act," Jackson wrote.
Jackson's early climate moves will come with the help of an advising team that has close ties to the recent Supreme Court case, as well as the last big debate on global warming legislation in Congress.
According to a well-placed source, the new EPA administrator has hired Georgetown University law professor Lisa Heinzerling -- the lead author on the global warming legal briefs to the Supreme Court -- as her top climate counsel. Jackson also will rely on David McIntosh, the former aide to Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) who helped draft the cap-and-trade bill debated last summer on the Senate floor (Greenwire, Jan. 26).
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) insisted yesterday that Jackson's EPA does not have to wait long to move on its Supreme Court response. "I think they'll make that endangerment finding," she told reporters, citing Senate testimony she collected last year showing that agency staffers had prepared the document for the Bush administration, only to see it blocked by the White House.
"The work has been done," Boxer added.
Anticipating Obama's next big move on climate change, industry representatives and their allies on Capitol Hill have started warning about the consequences of EPA's efforts.
Sen. John Barasso (R-Wyo.) said during Jackson's confirmation hearing earlier this month that he is hearing concerns from ranchers in his home state about the prospect of EPA climate regulations under the Clean Air Act for farmers, calling it "a disaster waiting to happen."
And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday connected the Obama White House's statement on the California waiver request to the pending endangerment finding decision.
Granting California's waiver "would put the EPA one step closer to making carbon dioxide 'subject to regulation' under the [Clean Air] Act," said William Kovacs, the chamber's vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs. "This would almost certainly extend well beyond cars and trucks and would have the unintended consequence of creating costly and burdensome permitting requirements on millions of construction projects including hospitals, schools, and office buildings."
Environmentalists do not buy the industry warnings, saying the Obama EPA can craft climate regulations without such broad repercussions.
"I think it's a sign of the weakness of the opposition's position that they feel a need to resort to these scare tactics," said David Hawkins, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The government can figure out a sensible approach to use the Clean Air Act. The argument that using the Clean Air Act means regulating churches and schools and Cub Scout packs is a sign of desperation."