March 24, 2009 at 4:17 pm

EPA makes a move on emissions

Agency seeks to declare greenhouse gasses health danger; may set stage for new tailpipe gas limits.

WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency wants carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases declared a public health danger -- nearly two years after the Supreme Court gave it authority to regulate them.

If approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the move could set the stage for sweeping national limits on man-made carbon dioxide emissions, especially from the nation's automobiles.

The EPA submitted the proposed finding to the White House on Friday, according to a government Web site that lists pending regulatory actions.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president wants Congress to act on emissions.

"The way to deal with greenhouse gases is to work with Congress in order to put together a plan that deals with this and creates a market for renewable energy," Gibbs said Monday.

EPA's move would come nearly 10 years after the agency first received California's petition in 1999 to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. It is on track to release its proposal by Earth Day and hold two public hearings before it is finalized.

In 2003, EPA denied the petition. California and a dozen other states led by Massachusetts sued to require regulation of the heat-trapping gas linked to climate change.

In April 2007, in Massachusetts vs. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles could be regulated under the Clean Air Act, and said that if the EPA declined to do so, it had to explain its scientific reasoning.

The Bush administration took little action on the court's decision -- merely publishing a proposal in July that sought additional public comment.

Automakers have strongly fought efforts to limit tailpipe emissions and have faced growing pressure to do more.

Greenhouse gas emissions from cars, light trucks and other vehicles in 2006 accounted for nearly 24 percent of U.S. emissions -- with 94 percent of those emissions as carbon dioxide, according to the EPA. U.S. autos accounted for 4.3 percent of worldwide emissions.

California and a dozen other states want to set their own limits on carbon dioxide emissions and have sought a waiver from the Obama administration after being denied a waiver by the Bush administration in December 2007.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President William Kovacs, said allowing California to go forward could damage automakers.

"As Congress tries to bail out the auto industry, California wants to punch more holes in the bottom of the boat," Kovacs said, warning of the high costs.