Past Event

Should the EPA Regulate Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

During the past several years a battle over the environment has been waged under the radar of much of the American public. The central question: does the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases? The automotive industry says no. Environmentalist organizations and various U.S. courts say yes. The EPA says it is ill-equipped to determine if greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles endanger public health.

In 2002, California requested a waiver from the EPA that would allow the state to raise emission standards above federal regulations. The EPA denied the waiver, arguing that it did not have any such authority. This disagreement would find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled last year that, according to the 1970 Clean Air Act, the EPA did indeed have the requisite jurisdiction. However, this jurisdiction rested on whether or not the EPA deemed greenhouse gases a threat to public safety.

But instead of making a decision on greenhouse gases, the EPA produced a massive document of some 1000 pages focused largely on whether or not the Clean Air Act is even suitable to regulate greenhouse gases. Bush appointee and current EPA Chief, Stephen Johnson is on record saying, "The potential regulation of greenhouse gases under any portion of the Clean Air Act could result in an unprecedented expansion of EPA authority that would have a profound effect on virtually every sector of the economy and touch every household in the land."

Some are calling this report a delay tactic, saying that the EPA is refusing to act in compliance with the Supreme Court decision. Senator Barbara Boxer of California said, "A year ago, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are covered under the Clean Air Act. Now, instead of action, we get more foot-dragging." Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts has threatened to subpoena documents from that EPA to find out if the agency has put any efforts toward making a decision on whether or not greenhouse gas emissions are a threat to public safety.

Should the EPA be required to regulate greenhouse gases? Is this giving too much power to a governmental agency? President Bush recently pledged that the United States would join other wealthy nations in seeking to cut emissions 50 percent by 2050. Does this recent action by the EPA contradict this pledge? How much of an increase in the cost of living should citizens endure in order to reduce the negative effects of global climate change? What role should the government play in curbing global warming? And what role and responsibility do individual citizens have in responding to pollution?

Suggested readings:

For more information, call 312.422.5580.