The Environmental Protection Agency has moved one step closer to regulating carbon-dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, issuing a formal finding that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare.

Lisa Jackson

Environmental groups are cheering EPA’s Dec. 7 “endangerment” finding, but construction and other business organizations warn that regulating greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions could choke off economic growth. Stephen Sandherr, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America, says, “At a time when the government is investing billions in construction activity to rebuild our economy, this decision will undermine the stimulus, cost thousands of construction workers their jobs and stifle economic growth for decades to come.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and energy companies like American Electric Power object to using the Clean Air Act to regulate GHGs. They would rather see Congress pass a cap-and-trade measure. President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have stated that they prefer congressional action. But they also have signaled that they will move to address climate change if Congress fails to pass a bill. The House cleared a climate-change bill in July, but action in the Senate has stalled, partly because of its focus on health-care legislation.

Jeff Holmstead, former EPA air administrator in the Bush administration, says the agency’s move was not a surprise. EPA issued a notice in April that it was considering finding GHG emissions a public-health threat. Holmstead says EPA’s new finding is “clearly designed to set the stage for the Copenhagen conference” on climate change, which began on Dec. 7.

EPA’s decision will undermine the stimulus and cost thousands of jobs.
— Stephen Sandherr, CEO, AGC

Holmstead adds, “The big concern is that new construction will come to a standstill because of additional permitting and paperwork requirements.” The endangerment finding itself does not impose any new regulations or requirements but will allow EPA to issue final versions of the GHG standards for light-duty vehicles that it and the Dept. of Transportation proposed earlier this year.

EPA’s finding also could boost its efforts to move forward with its “tailoring” proposal, announced on Sept. 30, says Karen Lapsevic, AGC’s director of tax, fiscal affairs and infrastructure finance. That proposal would require facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons of GHG annually to obtain permits to show they are using the best practices and technologies to minimize such emissions. EPA raised the threshold for such emissions to focus on the largest GHG emitters. But that move could face a challenge in court; some industry groups have questioned EPA’s legal authority to issue the proposal without a congressional mandate.