U.S. EPA should begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions without delay, said advocates of climate change action at a hearing yesterday.
"It is clear that the time for action is now," said Navis Bermudez, who spoke for New York Gov. David Paterson at the EPA hearing, which the agency held to accept public input on its endangerment finding proposal.
"EPA not only has the authority but the responsibility to regulate," Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) told reporters, saying that the agency's actions are "entirely consistent" with Congress' effort to pass climate legislation to reduce emissions.
He, along with many lawmakers and the Obama administration, prefers to enact climate legislation that would control global warming at a lower cost to the economy.
Last month, the agency responded to a 2007 Supreme Court decision with a preliminary finding that six greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare as defined by the Clean Air Act.
The agency, however, could give no timeline for finalizing its decision after the public comment period ends on June 23, said Dina Kruger, director of EPA's climate change division.
Once the decision is final, EPA would first be required to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles. The Obama administration will take the first steps towards doing this today, according to a senior administration official.
President Obama will direct EPA and the Transportation Department to create the first greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, effectively increasing fuel economy standards to match more ambitious targets long sought by the state of California.
The finding from EPA would also likely trigger rules for other large industrial emissions sources, such as power plants and refineries, many experts predict.
Those in favor of regulation, including a long lineup of environmental, health and religious organizations, applauded the agency for following science and law in making its proposal and urged it to continue doing so.
"What we're seeing is EPA simply obeying the law," said David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel with the Sierra Club.
Dispute among witnesses over economic impacts
But Bryan Brendle, energy policy director for the National Association of Manufacturers, urged EPA to avoid finalizing the finding, saying it would pre-empt the ongoing dialogue in Congress and trigger rules that would further burden the economy.
EPA has the legal flexibility to backtrack on its proposal, Brendle said.
Others, however, said the agency must stay its course regardless of the costs of regulations or Congress' timeline. "Consideration of the potential policy implications of the finding, such as how the agency might subsequently regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, is totally inappropriate," said Nancy Kruger of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
Kruger said greenhouse gas regulations would not wreak the economic havoc that some industry groups have claimed. Bookbinder, of the Sierra Club, said arguments that EPA would be forced, by law or by lawsuits, to impose costly regulations on small businesses, hospitals and schools were simply industry "scare tactics."
"When given a clear target and a consistent signal, the economy can handle whatever EPA throws at it," said Jim Barrett, an economist with the E3 Network, an environmental group. He said that, in the past, regulations have typically turned out to cost far less than what the agency itself had predicted.
Others urged EPA to expand its finding to include a seventh heat-trapping pollutant. Soot, sometimes called black carbon, is regulated as a traditional air pollutant but also contributes to rising temperatures.
Soot should take its place alongside greenhouse gases
Marc Jacobson, a Stanford University professor, said that further reducing soot emissions beyond current requirements could be one of the fastest ways to counter near-term climate change and slow the loss of Arctic sea ice. He said black carbon emissions are the second-biggest cause, after carbon dioxide, for warming observed so far.
The climate bill now being debated by the House Energy and Commerce Committee includes provisions that authorize EPA to control black carbon.
EPA's endangerment proposal relied heavily on existing scientific assessments, including reports written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, warned that more recent studies show that the effects of climate change are happening even faster than predicted.
S. Fred Singer, a long-time climate science skeptic who heads the Science and Environmental Policy Project, claimed that such statements undermine the science of global warming. "That's just another way of admitting that the computer predictions have failed," he testified.
EPA will hold a second public hearing on Thursday in Seattle.