EPA Publishes Proposed Endangerment Finding for GHGs: First Step to New Regulation of Auto Emissions
Earlier today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued proposed findings that six greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride) present a health and safety issue such that they should be regulated under the Clean Air Act.
In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497, held that greenhouse gases constitute pollutants under the Clean Air Act and ordered the EPA Administrator to determine whether or not such gases cause or contribute to pollution that may endanger human health. These proposed findings are the result of that order. Today’s proposed findings hold that the six listed gases do threaten human health (the “endangerment” finding), and that motor vehicle emissions contribute to the concentration of the gases in the atmosphere (the “cause or contribute” finding).
What are the impacts of the findings? Who will be affected?
Once finalized, the findings will obligate EPA to regulate the gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act, which requires that the Administrator set standards for emissions of pollutants from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines. Existing motor vehicles and engines will not be affected, but new vehicles and engines will have to meet these standards. Because Massachusetts v. EPA specifically addressed regulation under section 202(a), today’s findings are focused on vehicle emissions only. Down the road, however, it is also possible that the findings could lay the groundwork for regulating these gases under other provisions of the Clean Air Act.
What are the next steps?
The proposed findings will be published in the Federal Register shortly, and 60 days will be allowed for comments. When EPA has received and evaluated comments, it will publish final findings. The findings, even when final, will not directly regulate emissions—in order to do that, EPA must develop regulations (which will also be open to public comment) via the rulemaking process. However, the proposed findings do represent a key first step toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions.