This week, President Obama is formally proposing a new EPA regulation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from existing U.S. power plants by 2030. After many attempts at passing carbon cap and trade legislation through the Congress over the last decade have failed, the President is now taking unilateral action to directly regulate greenhouse gas emissions. How did we get here?
The EPA receives its power to regulate those economic activities that impose environmental impacts from air pollution through the Clean Air Act of 1990. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had the ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, even though such emissions had not been considered air pollutants. However, this regulatory power was conditional on the EPA submitting an “endangerment finding,” in which a careful review of the existing science clearly indicates that greenhouse emissions directly endanger the health of Americans.
Marlo Lewis at the Competitive Enterprise Institute points out that section 202 of the Clean Air Act specifically requires the EPA to perform its own scientific assessment and to exercise its own independent judgment when finding evidence of endangering human health. This means the EPA cannot rely on the scientific assessment and judgment of outside organizations to find conclusive evidence of health endangerment to justify its regulatory powers.
The EPA entered its endangerment finding into the April, 2009 section of the Federal Register, which is the official log of all regulations proposed by federal agencies. However, this endangerment finding, and the EPA’s defense of this finding to its many critics, stretches the boundaries of logic.
Logical Inconsistency #1: Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) had a careful look at page 18,901 of the 2009 Federal Register. (BTW, does it bother anyone else that by April, the annual log book of proposed federal regulations had already reached over 18,000 pages?) Senator Inhofe is bothered by the fact that the EPA states:
To be clear, ambient concentrations of carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases, whether at current levels or at projected ambient levels under scenarios of high emissions growth over time, do not cause direct adverse health effects such as respiratory or toxic effects.
The Senator sees this as a direct contradiction to the finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger human health.
Logical Inconsistency #2: Marlo Lewis points out that the U.S. Inspector General has issued a report that claims the EPA failed to perform its own scientific analysis to reach the conclusion that endangerment to human health existed. Page 23 of that report states that the EPA responded to this criticism by claiming that the documented analysis was “not a scientific assessment,” but merely a summary of findings by organizations, like the the recently discredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. This statement makes it appears the EPA simply relied upon other organizations for both the scientific assessment and the conclusion that greenhouse gas emissions directly threaten human health. Even the Inspector General feels that this endangerment finding fails to meet the requirements specified in the Clean Air Act.
Have greenhouse gas emissions been proven to be an endangerment to human health? I guess it depends on which EPA you are talking to… Sybil? Is that you?