Move to regulate greenhouse gases angers Republicans
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The US Environmental Protection Agency (led by Lisa Jackson, pictured) has moved to limit greenhouse gases without the need for Congress to pass new laws, sparking concern among Republicans that industries will be saddled with costly new regulations.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially classified six greenhouse gases as pollutants that pose a danger to public health, clearing the way for it to regulate US gas emissions even if Congress has not passed legislation on the issue.
“EPA has finalised its endangerment findings on greenhouse gas pollution and is now authorised and obligated to make reasonable efforts to reduce greenhouse pollutants,” said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in a press conference on Monday.
The federal agency, which could begin setting new
clean energy rules as soon as next year, would require new and expanding factories and power plants to opt for the most advanced eco-friendly technology when building or renewing their infrastructure. EPA has also drafted the first ever greenhouse gas emission standards for automobiles, which would require car makers to build more fuel-efficient cars than they do now.
A shift from Bush policies
The EPA has been legally entitled to regulate greenhouse gas emissions produced from US industry since the US Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that it had the right to do so under the Clean Air Act. However, under the administration of former US president George W. Bush, the government-controlled agency did not exercise that right, arguing that Congress was the right place to frame action against global warming.
US President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress are pursuing legislation to secure short-term limits on gas emissions, but strong Republican opposition has so far stalled congressional action on the issue, prompting the EPA to take matters into its own hands. “This administration will not ignore science or the law any longer,” said Jackson.
Positive sign hailed in Copenhagen
The EPA policy shift was announced on the opening day of the Copenhagen climate summit and welcomed by many national delegates there. "This gives additional credibility to the US commitment [to fight climate change]”, said France's climate ambassador Brice Lalonde.
The announcement “helps to persuade delegates and observers from other countries that the US is seriously using all the tools it has,” said David Doniger, policy director of the National Resources Defence Council's climate centre.
The announcement prompted angry reactions from more conservative Republicans and sparked concern that EPA regulations could saddle industries with constraining new regulations at a time of economic uncertainty.
“[EPA regulations] threaten to choke off growth by adding new mandates to virtually every major construction and renovation project,” US Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donohue said on Monday.
Some prominent Republicans, however, hailed President Obama for turning climate action into a national rather than state priority. “Climate change is real and it is welcome news to see that the US EPA is taking its head out of the sand,” said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday.
Most observers believe that the EPA’s announcement is mainly intended to speed up congressional action, but that the agency will avoid acting alone in the face of likely legal challenges ahead. Legislation by Congress would be more politically beneficial for Obama, because it would represent a compromise between business, politicians and other interests rather than impose unilateral federal rules.
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