Will Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under the Clean Air Act Be the Dawn of a New Era?


On April 17th, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health.

This opens the door to regulating the six main greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)) under the Clean Air Act. A 60-day comment period in effect until June 23rd.

This ruling could be the beginning of our government finally taking action on global warming. Currently, greenhouse gases are not considered “pollutants”. If this rule holds it will have sweeping implications for the largest greenhouse gas emitters, and could set us on the path toward a green economy.

Expect a fight. Three major industries would be heavily affected by this proposed regulation.

Coal, Cars, and Cows

Coal-fired power plants are some of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses. According to Reuters, the coal industry would rather see greenhouse gases regulated by legislation, presumably because the coal states hold a lot of sway in Congress.

According to Grist, automakers will be one of the first on the list to be regulated because “they’re perceived as the lower-hanging fruit.”

California has long been trying to regulate tailpipe emissions, but in 2005 the Bush administration denied the state a waiver that would have allowed it to implement tougher standards than the federal standards. President Obama has said he supports granting the waiver to California, a move automakers oppose.

Cows and other ruminant animals emit methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent than Co2, so this regulation could have a huge impact on large-scale farm operations and force agribusiness to pay pollution fines.

According to Farm Policy, former U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Senator Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), is already co-sponsoring legislation to protect livestock producers from what is being called a “cow tax.”

Supporters of the regulation claim this will be the dawn of a new clean economy, creating thousands of high-paying jobs that cannot be outsourced. Opponents say it’s just too expensive and it will kill our economy and take the jobs that are left along with it.

Further Reading:

LA Times

Image: SF Brit

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.