Common Sense Questions on the Clean Air Act
Conn Carroll /
Tomorrow the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global warming will hold a hearing to discuss the Bush administration’s response to the Supreme Court’s Massachusetts v. EPA decision. The Court’s 5-4 decision held that the Clean Air Act’s (CAA) broad definition of “air pollutant” gave the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. However, the decision did not order the EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Justice Stevens wrote: “We need not and do not reach the question whether on remand EPA must make an endangerment finding, or whether policy concerns can inform EPA’s actions in the event that it makes such a finding. We hold only that EPA must ground its reasons for action or inaction in the statute.”
Despite this clear holding, many activists believe the decision requires the EPA to begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions and Thursday’s House hearing is a venue for them to make their case. It is also a great opportunity for conservatives to demonstrate how far reaching an EPA determination that greenhouse gas emissions merit an endangerment finding under the CAA would be.
The plaintiffs in Massachusetts v. EPA purport to seek only regulation of new motor vehicles under Section 202 of the CAA. But making such a finding would trigger requirements under other sections of the CAA which would force the EPA to issue regulations that could cripple the economy.
Specifically, an endangerment finding on motor vehicle CO2 emissions would force the EPA to act under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) programs. PSD normally only applies to large business and polluters, but because CO2 is so ubiquitous, even small entities would be forced to comply with the programs complex regulations. NAAQS ‘s requirements are even more scary since they force the EPA to adopt regulations that would reduce pollution to levels that protect health and welfare with “an adequate margin of safety.”
Considering that some new studies claim CO2 emissions would have to be eliminated entirely to prevent the ‘dangers’ of global warming, an endangerment finding for CO2 would require the EPA completely de-industrialize the United States. This consequence may sound absurd, but it is only as absurd as the argument the Congress intended to give this power to the EPA when they passed the CAA.
To help prevent future EPA actions along these lines, committee members should press the hearing’s second panel on whether or not they considered what far reaching regulations would be required if the EPA made an endangerment finding on CO2.