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In a landmark move, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is about to declare an “endangerment finding” on GHGs, meaning they officially acknowledge them to be a threat to human health, and are therefore required to regulate them under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

This is the latest development in a process that started in 1999 when 12 states, 3 cities and several environmental organisations petitioned the EPA to regulate GHGs emissions from motor vehicles under the CAA. The case – known as Massachusetts v. EPA – eventually made it to the Supreme Court, and in April 2007 the Court ruled that as greenhouse gases meet the Act’s definition of air pollutants, the EPA must take action to regulate tailpipe emissions.

Following this decision the EPA was required to find whether or not GHGs emissions from vehicles endanger public health (unless it found that the science is too uncertain to make a judgement).

Unsurprisingly EPA scientists found that GHGs do in fact endanger human health as they contribute to global warming, but under the Bush administration the EPA stalled, taking over a year to publish just an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR is an informal action used when an agency seeks more information and public input before deciding what to propose).

Now the EPA, under the new director Lisa P. Jackson, has finally sent the Obama administration a proposed “endangerment finding”, which – if cleared by the White House Office of Management and Budget – will pave the way for EPA regulation of GHGs.

While many agree that the 1970 Clean Air Act is not ideal for dealing with rising GHGs emissions (and anyway, this first stage deals with emissions from vehicles only), this will still be a step forward as it will likely put pressure on Congress to pass legislation that would be better suited for the task. Such a move will be welcomed both by environmentalists and the industry.

So what now? Now we wait for Ms. Jackson to sign the endangerment finding, probably in mid April, and see if this will indeed prompt Congress to act more swiftly on regulating US emissions of greenhouse gases.

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