HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Protecting Public Health and Welfare against Greenhouse Gases Hits a Snag

 Last week, Republican leaders made it clear that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will not have an easy time with proposals to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. At a congressional hearing on Wednesday, EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson was assailed for her plans to begin setting emission limits, with a NY Times article reporting that she was accused of “putting the American economy in a straitjacket.” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chair of the House Energy Committee was quoted in a Washington Post article saying that  EPA's "regulation will skyrocket costs that will destroy jobs."

On Friday, House Republicans introduced legislation that would strip U.S. EPA of its funding to regulate CO2 emissions, gut the State Department's climate aid programs and slash funding for energy and climate research across the federal government. It would also prevent the president from replacing departing climate and energy czar Carol Browner or creating "any substantially similar position." See description of the bill here. On January 31, 2011 Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming introduced Senate Bill 228 that would prevent EPA from regulating GHGs without specific congressional authorization. Texas Rep. Ralph Hall, the new chairman of House Committee on Science and Technology, has called climate change a "massive international scientific fraud, quoted by the Miami Herald here


In 2009, the EPA issued a finding that  CO2 and other GHGs pose a danger to public health and welfare based on evaluations of the risks associated with changes in air quality, increases in temperatures, changes in extreme weather events, increases in food- and water-borne pathogens, and changes in aeroallergens. This GHG endangerment rule became effective a year ago. This was a major step in the struggle to regulate GG under the Clean Air Act, sparked off by the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA that held that the agency has authority to regulate GHG emissions. In a December 2010 press release, the EPA announced that it was now working on GHG standards for fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries—two of the largest industrial sources, representing nearly 40 percent of the GHG pollution in the United States.

Even if the EPA is undermined, states are taking up the slack by launching their own programs to combat GG emissions, according to an article in USA Today.

- Mary Munson

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