WASHINGTON - Carbon dioxide, the chief cause of global
warming, cannot be regulated as a pollutant, the Environmental
Protection Agency ruled Thursday.
The decision reverses
a 1998 Clinton administration position. It means that the Bush
administration won't be able to use the Clean Air Act to
reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars.
The Earth is round. Elvis is
dead. Climate change is happening.
NOT A POLLUTANT'
President Bush on August 28, 2003 of further
undermining international efforts to curb global
warming with a likely ruling that carbon dioxide
is not a pollutant. Carbon dioxide occurs as a
natural component of the atmosphere as well as
being a by-product of industrial processes. Bush
is shown during a campaign speech in Saginaw,
Michigan on Sept. 29, 2000 during which he
announced proposals for mandatory reductions in
four major pollutants, including carbon dioxide.
Photo by Jeff
Had the Bush administration decided that carbon dioxide is
a pollutant and harmful, it could have required expensive new
pollution controls on new cars and perhaps on power plants,
which together are the main sources of so-called greenhouse
Environmentalists are expected to respond by suing the EPA
to try to force it to regulate carbon dioxide. The real fight
is likely to shift to Congress, where some lawmakers are
proposing a new law giving the EPA clear authority to regulate
emissions of gases linked to global warming.
"Refusing to call greenhouse-gas emissions a pollutant is
like refusing to say that smoking causes lung cancer,"
responded Melissa Carey, a climate policy specialist for
Environmental Defense, a New York-based environmental group.
"The Earth is round. Elvis is dead. Climate change is
EPA General Counsel Robert Fabricant took the opposite
position in his 12-page decision Thursday. "Because the [Clean
Air Act] does not authorize regulation to address climate
change," he wrote, "it follows that [carbon dioxide] and other
[greenhouse gases], as such, are not air pollutants."
Auto industry representatives lauded Fabricant's position.
"Why would you regulate a pollutant that is an inert gas
that is vital to plant photosynthesis and that people exhale
when they breathe?" said Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington-based
industry lobby. "That's not a pollutant."
The Clean Air Act says the EPA can regulate a substance if
it comes from cars, contributes to air pollution and "may
reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or
welfare." The same law broadly defines an air pollutant as
"any air pollution agent or combination of such agents which
is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air."
Sierra Club senior attorney David Bookbinder, whose suit
prompted Fabricant's decision, said it was simple: "Anything
that people put into the air can be an air pollutant. The
question `Does it do something bad?' " is what matters.
Copyright 2003 Knight Ridder