COPENHAGEN -- U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson insisted today that her agency was not rushing to release its endangerment finding on global warming on the day that international negotiations started on a new climate treaty.
"The endangerment finding and the work here are separate," Jackson told reporters today during the third day of the U.N.-sponsored climate conference. "Certainly, I'm glad we were able to complete the finding and make that statement just before. We barely got it. But that wasn't our impetus."
Jackson, speaking at a special U.S.-themed pavilion at the Bella Center here, maintained that EPA's efforts to classify carbon dioxide emissions as a threat to public health "had been sitting for years" -- since the Supreme Court's 2007 decision ordering the George W. Bush administration to redo an earlier rejection of CO2 as a health threat.
EPA's work this year to propose and finish the endangerment finding under the Clean Air Act involved the review of 400,000 public comments and a range of new scientific studies that Jackson said helped make the link between greenhouse gas emissions and threats to public health.
Congressional Republicans have blasted the Obama administration over the timing of the EPA decision at the same time some 190 countries gather in the Denmark capital to work on a new treaty that could succeed the Kyoto Protocol.
"If the Democrat Congress can't kill jobs by passing a national energy tax, then the Obama Environmental Protection Agency will," Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, said Monday. "This is nothing more than an attempt by the administration to build international support for a binding political agreement in Copenhagen."
The Obama EPA's move has sparked a range of opinions in Copenhagen about the role it will have on the talks, including some who think it gives the United States additional leverage at the bargaining table, given the tough climb to pass domestic legislation on Capitol Hill.
"It's a very good signal indeed," U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer told reporters yesterday. "It makes it easier for the president of the United States to commit to something."
De Boer added, "If I were a businessman, I would say, 'Please, please, please do a deal in Copenhagen, and please, please, please make it market-based.' Because if we fail to get a market-based deal here, and if the U.S. Senate fails to pass cap-and-trade legislation, then the EPA will be obliged to regulate. And every businessman knows that taxes and regulations tend to be a lot more expensive and lot less efficient than market-based approaches."
Others are scratching their heads at what exactly an EPA finding means for businesses in the United States and more broadly for the U.N. talks. "I don't think most people understand it," said Eric Holdsworth, director of the Edison Electric Institute's climate program, the lead trade group for investor-owned U.S. power companies.
Jackson explained that the Obama administration continues to prefer passage of a global warming law because of the additional layers of certainty it provides business, especially given the threats of litigation against a series of EPA climate regulations soon to come for automobiles and stationary sources, including power plants.
"There are lots of businesses who have been waiting for a clear signal as to whether or not the United States is on the road to clean energy and of putting a price on carbon, or whether this is just one more head nod," Jackson said. "The reason for legislation is to take that out of their minds."
Within hours of the EPA endangerment finding, the free-market group Competitive Enterprise Institute said it would sue the Obama administration in federal appeals court for the move. Asked about that lawsuit, Jackson replied, "I'm not surprised."