In a surprising announcement on Monday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that greenhouse gases threaten public health and the environment. The decision came as advocates and world leaders gathered in Copenhagen this week to redefine international policy on climate change.
EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson stated:
“These long-overdue findings cement 2009’s place in history as the year when the United States Government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform…business leaders, security experts, government officials, concerned citizens and the United States Supreme Court have called for enduring, pragmatic solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing climate change. This continues our work towards clean energy reform that will cut GHGs and reduce the dependence on foreign oil that threatens our national security and our economy.”
To what do we owe this shift in environmental policy? In large part, we can thank the courts. In Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), the Supreme Court questioned the Bush Administration’s stance that the EPA did not have the right to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Court ruled 5-4 that given the requirements of the Clean Air Act, the only way the EPA could refuse to regulate greenhouse gas emissions was “if it determines that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change” or if it could provide a good explanation for why it could or would not do so.
Happily, the EPA appears to be taking the Court up on its challenge. We hope to see the agency fulfill the mission for which it was created.