What the Endangerment finding really means.

One of the largest issues today is the question of how to regulate greenhouse gases.  Most of the Obama administration’s efforts to do so hinges on the supreme court’s 2007 decision otherwise known as the “endangerment finding”.  This decision unknown to most people did not state that the EPA “must regulate greenhouse gases.”  On the contrary, the decision made no claim in either direction on that particular point.  The decision merely stated that the EPA’s current arguments against stating that GHG’s are not pollution were not valid.  This part of the decision, however, is deeply flawed as well.

Picture courtesy of: http://www.solstation.com/stars/earth.htm

But this decision is not what most people think it means.  The decision merely stated that the EPA’s current (at the time) argument against GHG’s (greenhouse gases) was not enough to not classify GHG’s as “pollution” as defined under the CAA (Clean Air Act).  As such, the EPA was required to come up with a new argument on why the greenhouse gases are not pollution.  The EPA as such is not a body which can decide what is pollution and what is not arbitrarily.  But despite that fact, it did just that in 2009 under the Obama administration when it “fast-tracked” a decision to decide that it did need to regulate said gases.  http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2009/03/10/10greenwire-epa-document-shows-endangerment-finding-on-fas-10053.html

This decision is faulty and wrong since the EPA is supposed to be against new regulation but in reality in this case it decided to support new regulation due to the current president without coming up with a reasoned approach to why GHG’s are not pollution.  The EPA in other words due to the decision (Which I will state was wrong) came to the conclusion that it can simply decide to regulate said substances without any investigation into whether the decision is correct or not.  This was a rather political decision and it came from the ruling under MASSACHUSETTS et al.v. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY et al. No. 05–1120 which made it vague as to what is considered “pollution” under the CAA.  The finding as I said did not say the EPA had to regulate GHG’s.

This is a very dangerous precedent as it means that the head of the EPA as in that case has the power to decide what to regulate depending on political reasonings as opposed to science which is under the law what the EPA is required to base it’s decisions on.   This occurred like I said just like this.  The Obama administration decided arbitrarily to simply regulate greenhouse gases without scientific proof to show that this was needed.

What does that mean?  The largest problem is that the next administration can simply come up with a new argument on why greenhouse gases are not pollution and as such the EPA is nothing more than a political instrument that does whatever the current administration wants it to do.  That is not the purpose of the CAA or the EPA in any sense of the word.  The purpose simply put is to regulate actual pollution that is scientifically shown to have a detrimentally negative effect on humans or the environment.  The problem with regulating GHG’s that are mentioned is that humans are a small impact on this globally compared to the environment itself.  In the case of CO2, human-kind is responsible for 3-5% of all CO2 emitted.  That means about 96% of all CO2 in the atmosphere that is there is due to natural sources.

Image courtesy of http://brainshavings.com/environment/

In that instance, regulating CO2 is like regulating frisbees, as Scalia said in this portion of the dissent: “It follows that everything airborne, from Frisbees to flatulence, qualifies as an “air pollutant.”  This reading of the statute defies common sense.”  The issue there is that there is not a reasonable expectation that the CAA could be read correctly by the EPA, and that it turns the entire issue into a political issue where any side can argue what they want as far as pollution goes.

Here is what the EPA said in its decision to finally regulate GHG’s:

  • Endangerment Finding: The Administrator finds that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) — in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.
  • Cause or Contribute Finding: The Administrator finds that the combined emissions of these well-mixed greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles and new motor vehicle engines contribute to the greenhouse       gas pollution which threatens public health and welfare.

As can be seen from those findings, the EPA has taken it upon itself as mentioned to regulate without actual proof one way or another.  And to call CO2 pollution or the others is simply funny.  That means that technically the EPA can regulate our breathing since as this says, CO2 is pollution.  Or as mentioned by Scalia, the EPA can regulate our farts since it can also regulate methane.  Disgusting and to the point maybe, but the precedent is set and what is stopping the EPA from deciding to do so?

Image courtesy of: http://www.davegranlund.com/cartoons/2009/12/08/epa-greenhouse-gas-ruling/

Some people might turn around and argue that “but regulating CO2 is good for the environment.”  This is not the case, because frankly this decision weakened the ability of the EPA to argue against regulation and turned it into a political hatchet-job.  The EPA therefore is no longer an independent organization, but rather a political instrument that can be used to cut as the leaders want it to.

The second issue is that the EPA states that regulating CO2 by itself will require billions of dollars and 240,000 more employees.  Where is this money going to come from?  In the end, the Government can only milk so much money from large industry before the industry is either bankrupt or forced to move out of the country.  Regulation therefore is needed to a certain extent, but too much regulation takes away too much from the economy and causes all of our country’s costs to rise.

So in that instance, we will reduce pollution in the US, but not world-wide as the industry will move off-shore and other countries will emit the GHG’s which in the end does nothing to solve this problem.  (Assuming it is a problem.)

But am I correct in my synopsis that the decision made by the Supreme Court does not give the EPA over-whelming force to regulate CO2?  The confirmation that I am right comes from the fact that despite the endangerment finding both in the Supreme Court and the finding of the actual EPA, congress attempted to pass a bill to regulate GHG’s.  If the decision by the Supreme Court had put that issue to rest, this would not be required as GHG’s would simply be regulated under the CAA.  As such, the current EPA decisions in regard to regulation of GHG’s are wrong, and should be stopped as soon as possible.

I hope I have made it clear that the legal issues are present that really make it wrong for the EPA to be regulating as it is.  There is no justification legally for this kind of behavior.  Perhaps we should be working on curbing actual pollution instead and safe-guarding the environment in a logical and reasonable method?  Just a thought on that last one.  In any regard, the EPA is not expected to regulate GHG’s in any fashion, that is simply a political decision that was made by politicians and not by scientists.  The world waits for proof of global warming that is not natural.  Until then, it might be a little soon to cripple every industry in this country for a problem that is probably not a problem in the first place.

To read more:

http://epa.gov/climatechange/endangerment.html

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/05-1120.ZS.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_Greenhouse_Gases_Under_the_Clean_Air_Act

http://spectator.org/archives/2011/10/03/clean-airs-dirty-residue

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