The Environmental Protection Agency moved closer Monday to issuing regulations on greenhouse gases, a step that would enable it to limit emissions across the economy even if Congress does not pass climate legislation. According to an article published today (Dec. 8) in the Washington Post (Steven Mufson and David A. Fahrenthold, EPA is preparing to regulate emissions in Congress’s stead), “[t]he move, which coincided with the first day of the international climate summit in Copenhagen, seemed timed to reassure delegates there that the United States is committed to reducing its emissions even if domestic legislation remains bogged down. But it provoked condemnation from key Republicans and from U.S. business groups, which vowed to tie up any regulations in litigation.

In Monday’s much-anticipated announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency said that six gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, pose a danger to the environment and the health of Americans and that the agency would start drawing up regulations to reduce those emissions.

‘These are reasonable, common-sense steps,’ EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said, adding that they would protect the environment ‘without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the better part of our economy.’ At the same time, however, EPA regulation is no one’s preferred outcome — not even the EPA’s. Jackson said her agency and other administration officials would still prefer if Congress acted before they did”. In the same article it is noted that it “remains unclear whether the EPA’s regulatory cudgel will spur Congress to take faster action on the climate legislation that is now mired in the Senate or whether it will provoke a backlash.”

On April 2, 2007, in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), the U.S. Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases (GHG) are air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act.  The Court held that the Administrator must determine whether or not emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare, or whether the science is too uncertain to make a reasoned decision.

The EPA’s final findings on Monday respond to this decision. “There are no more excuses for delay,” Jackson said. “[T]his administration will not ignore science and the law any longer.”

The findings do not in and of themselves impose any emission reduction requirements but rather allow the EPA to finalize the GHG standards proposed earlier this year for new light-duty vehicles as part of the joint rulemaking with the Department of Transportation.

Yesterday’s announcement is currently available on the EPA’s homepage. More information on the endangerment finding is available here.