CLIMATE:

White House begins review of EPA endangerment proposal

The White House has begun reviewing a critical U.S. EPA document detailing the threats posed by global warming to both public health and welfare.

EPA's proposed endangerment finding -- required by a nearly 2-year-old Supreme Court opinion -- is expected to trigger a series of Clean Air Act regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, power plants and other major industrial sources.

Agency officials didn't comment on the completion of their internal review of the science linking global warming to public health and welfare. But the start of the White House review last Friday mirrors a leaked internal EPA presentation published earlier this month in Greenwire.

That document says EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson intends to sign the endangerment finding April 16, followed by a 60-day public comment period and two public hearings before the proposal can be finalized (Greenwire, March 10).

Obama's EPA inherited the global warming review following an April 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, which ordered the Bush administration to reconsider whether greenhouse gas emissions are pollutants subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.

EPA under Bush dedicated 70 staffers and spent about $5.3 million on outside government contracts to prepare its response, but the White House resisted finalizing any actions linked to the Supreme Court opinion and ultimately punted the issue to the next administration.

Environmental groups welcomed the Obama EPA's quick response to the Supreme Court decision.

"This is historic news," said Frank O'Donnell, head of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. "It will set the stage for the first-ever national limits on global warming pollution. And it is likely to help light a fire under Congress to get moving."

Industry groups, by contrast, are gearing up for their own fight to stop any EPA regulations. Bill Kovacs, vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, predicted litigation against the Obama administration.

"I know a lot of smart people who think they can bob and weave in the Clean Air Act," he said. "The bottom line is, the courts are going to now determine whether or not an endangerment finding kicks into the rest of the act."

Kovacs predicted that once EPA finalizes the endangerment finding, it will be forced by environmental groups to review a multitude of new energy and infrastructure projects to consider their threats to global warming, including items authorized under the economic stimulus law Obama signed earlier this month.

"This is the risk they're running," he said. "Anyone who thinks the environmental groups are not going to sue is not with reality."

But Sierra Club attorney David Bookbinder countered that environmental groups have no plans to challenge the Obama administration in court. "There's no one for us to sue," Bookbinder said. "This is more big-lie scare tactics from the major American polluters."

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