The Environmental Protection Agency announced yesterday that greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide—primarily a product of burning fossil fuels—are a danger to human health and the environment, a finding that allows the agency to limit the pollutants. Not only is the announcement a positive step toward regulating greenhouse gases, it could also give U.S. delegates and President Obama more leverage in Copenhagen, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (known informally as COP15). (Look for more blog posts by Aaron Lake Smith on the conference in the next few days.) There, representatives from 192 countries are meeting to negotiate an agreement that will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the consequences of global warming.
Before we get into that, though, let’s talk about what the EPA’s finding means for us here in the U.S. It will allow the federal agency to finalize regulations that are currently in draft form, like greenhouse gas emissions standards for tailpipes, and mandates requiring power plants to install the best available technology to reduce their pollutants. The EPA expects those rules to be finalized by March of next year, reports Greenwire.
The current administration would prefer that greenhouse gas emissions be regulated by legislation, not the EPA, because it would be more comprehensive and create a “framework for a clean energy economy.” But even though the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) in June, the Senate has yet to debate a similar bill proposed by Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. So, what is a president that made climate change an issue in his campaign to do when he shows up at COP-15 without legislation passed by Congress? That’s where the EPA comes in. Now, he can say that the U.S. government is making strides when it comes implementing greenhouse gas reductions.
That matters because over the course of the last 15 meetings (the 15 in COP-15 stands for the number of times the United Nations Climate Change Conference has convened), the U.S. has done, well, nothing. Okay, maybe that’s too harsh. But we haven’t done much to show the world that we’re committed to reducing our emissions. And we contribute more emissions per capita than any other country on the planet.
One of our excuses has been that developing countries, like China and India, also have a responsibility to reduce their emissions. Their governments have been reluctant to sign on, too, saying that they can’t have the same rate of economic growth with limits on greenhouse gas emissions, a claim that some economists, like Sir Nicholas Stern, head of the UK Government Economic Service, and a former Chief Economist of the World Bank, refute. Regardless, their involvement in an agreement is crucial to cutting down on the amount of greenhouse gases the world releases into the atmosphere.
For our part, we can hope that the U.S. engages as never before in the climate change agreement negotiations, and if nothing else, we might be able to look forward to some finalized rules on emissions come early next year. Oh, those ides of March…