As the UN began its Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen on Dec. 7, the Environmental Protection Agency began its own environmental initiative by announcing its decision that greenhouse gasses are a threat to human health and welfare.
In an address to the media, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson pointed out the endangerment finding "means that we arrive in the climate talks in Copenhagen with a clear demonstration of our commitment to facing this global challenge.
"In less than 11 months," Jackson said, "we have done more to promote clean energy and prevent climate change than happened in the last 8 years."
Monday's announcement was precipitated by a 2007 Supreme Court case that found that greenhouse gasses are pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act, compelling the EPA to start an intensive study.
Now that Administrator Jackson has announced its findings, the EPA is legally required to address Greenhouse gas pollution. "There are no more excuses for delay, said Jackson, meaning that while the announcement in and of itself does not impose any emission reduction requirements, some will certainly be coming.
The EPA's proposed standards on emissions from light duty vehicles will likely be finalized, and Jackson also described new regulations for high polluting facilities to be enacted in the near future.
Many feel that the move is designed to allow the EPA to limit greenhouse gas emissions without having to go through Congress, where both parties have resisted moving forward.
The EPA's determination to lower pollution levels has caused concern in Indiana, a state that gets the vast majority of its electricity from coal. The burning of coal causes the release of high amounts of carbon dioxide. Coal-fired power plants account for 36 percent of total U.S. carbon dioxide production.
Indiana, the Crossroads of America, also has a major network of highways -- and on-road vehicles contribute to about one quarter of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
As a State Representative, Bloomington's Matt Pierce has gained a reputation as an environmentally-conscious Congressman. The way he sees it, in ranking the numerous environmental issues at play, "energy issues have to be at the top of the list."
The mere mention of "energy issues" seems to open up a Pandora's Box of wide ranging and complex topics. From climate change to renewable energy to air pollutants and how their restriction could hamper sectors of the economy like manufacturing and transportation, any new energy regulation will probably have a far-reaching effect.
While Pierce acknowledges that potentially stricter carbon emissions requirements would pose a challenge to the state's electric utilities, he says: "There will be many opportunities for new sectors of Indiana's economy to develop. And electric utility consumers will be better off in the long run because renewable energy costs are much more stable and energy efficiency programs will lead to customers paying for less power."
Although EPA Administrator Jackson said that her agency may have to put out technical guidelines to polluters and work with state governments to implement them, Pierce doesn't see the State Legislature attacking the problem ambitiously. When asked if the EPA's decision would influence lawmaking at the state level, Pierce responded negatively, "It is sad to say it will have just about zero impact on the legislature. The General Assembly rarely acts until its back is against the wall."
Jackson hopes that the endangerment finding, which supplements the Clean Air Act, can function with legislation to slow the emission of greenhouse gasses.
Indiana Congressmen weigh in
Senator Richard Lugar has suggested putting health care and climate change aside to deal with the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lugar spokesman Andy Fisher says the EPA's ruling "will have major impact, particularly in Indiana energy and transportation," but "much will depend on development of regulations." So while the EPA has sounded an alarm regarding climate change, nothing's changed yet.
Lugar spoke out against the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill that passed the house earlier this year.
Senator Evan Bayh has also shied away from endorsing the EPA endangerment finding, saying "We all want to protect people's health and combat climate change. But during these difficult economic times, we must not cost Indiana jobs, raise prices for consumers or penalize America while other nations refuse to do their part."
EPA Administrator Jackson pledged in her address to the media that the problem of climate change would be approached "without putting a burden on small business or other sectors of the economy."
Indiana Congressmen Mike Pence and Dan Burton spoke out against the EPA's findings.
Rep. Pence said that the move "looks more like international public relations than public policy" and that the administration is "pursuing policies that are antithetical to getting the economy moving again."
Rep. Dan Burton said, "This ruling is the first step toward, what I believe to be, the dictatorial maneuver of bypassing Congress entirely, and enforcing a cap and trade plan which will devastate jobs across America, particularly in my home state of Indiana."
One Indiana Congressman who supports the EPA announcement is the 7th District's Andre Carson, who said "The EPA's announcement this week yet again shows the overwhelming science behind the negative effects of climate change. It's real and it's impacting the health of our people and our communities."
A threat to public welfare
According to the EPA, their reasoning for declaring greenhouse gasses a threat to public welfare means much more than an energy tax, which some say the endangerment finding will allow. The extended report, which can be found on the EPA's website, asserts that the climate is changing due to human activity and that climate warming is expected to continue, threatening water sources, agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, energy, infrastructure and coastal areas vulnerable to sea level rise.
In addition, potential heat waves could threaten the young, elderly and poverty-stricken, while ground level ozone and other particulates increase the risk of asthma and respiratory illness.
The list of greenhouse gasses defined by the EPA includes: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride and perfluorocarbons.
The EPA's announcement comes on the heels of a recent report by Environment America which ranks Indiana 4th for most pollution from power plants in the nation. Indiana is home to the oldest power plant in operation in the country, the C.C. Perry K Steam Plant, located downtown. Operations commenced at the Perry plant in August 1938. What's more, the Gibson power plant in Gibson county ranks as the 4th highest carbon dioxide producing plant in the nation.
The Environment America report called for coal burning power plants to modernize in order to lower emissions.
For more on the EPA's findings visit www.epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment.html