WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has sent a proposal to the White House finding that global warming is endangering the public's health and welfare, according to several sources, a move that could have far-reaching implications for the nation's economy and environment.
The proposal comes in response to a 2007 Supreme Court decision ordering the EPA to consider whether carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases should be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The proposal could lay the groundwork for nationwide measures to limit such emissions.
It reverses one of the Bush administration's landmark environmental decisions: In July 2008, then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson rejected his scientific and technical staff's recommendation and announced the agency would seek months of further public comment on the threat posed by global warming pollution.
"This is historic news," said Frank O'Donnell, who heads the public watchdog group Clean Air Watch. "It will set the stage for the first-ever national limits on global warming pollution. And it is likely to help light a fire under Congress to get moving."
Business groups decried the move as an economic disaster.
"By moving forward with the endangerment finding on greenhouse gases, EPA is putting in motion a set of decisions that may have far-reaching unintended consequences," said Bill Kovacs, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "Specifically, once the finding is made, no matter how limited, some environmental groups will sue to make sure it is applied to all aspects of the Clean Air Act.
"This will mean that all infrastructure projects, including those under the president's stimulus initiative, will be subject to environmental review for greenhouse gases. … This will be devastating to the economy."
The White House acknowledged Monday that the EPA had transmitted its proposed finding on global warming to the Office of Management and Budget, but provided no details.
It also cautioned that the Obama administration, which sees responding to climate change a top priority, nevertheless is ready to move cautiously when it comes to actually regulating greenhouse gases, preferring to have Congress act on the matter.
"I think this is just the step in that process," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, noting the Supreme Court ruling. Another White House official, speaking anonymously to the Associated Press because of the sensitivity of the subject, predicted a long process before any rules would be expected to be issued on heat-trapping emissions.