EPA Declares Greenhouse Gases a Public Health Threat

The Environmental Protection Agency says greenhouse gases are the primary cause of climate change. EPA research shows that greenhouse gas concentrations have reached unprecedented levels due to human activity, including greenhouse emissions from on-road vehicles, prompting concerns for the health of the sick, poor or elderly.

As the United Nations Climate Change Conference gets under way in Copenhagen, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared greenhouse gases a public health threat. According to an EPA statement Dec. 7, "GHGs are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to ... heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor and elderly; increases in ground-level ozone pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses; [and] other threats to the health and welfare of Americans." The statement continued:

""EPA's endangerment finding covers emissions of six key greenhouse gases-carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride-that have been the subject of scrutiny and intense analysis for decades by scientists in the United States and around the world.""

"Today's finding is based on decades of research by hundreds of researchers. The vast body of evidence not only remains unassailable, it's grown stronger, and it points to one conclusion: Greenhouse gases from human activity are increasing at unprecedented rates and are adversely affecting our environment and threatening our health," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "These long-overdue findings cement 2009's place in history as the year when the United States government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform."
The EPA statement said, "Scientific consensus shows that as a result of human activities, GHG concentrations in the atmosphere are at record high levels and data shows that the Earth has been warming over the past 100 years, with the steepest increase in warming in recent decades. The evidence of human-induced climate change goes beyond observed increases in average surface temperatures; it includes melting ice in the Arctic, melting glaciers around the world, increasing ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, acidification of the oceans due to excess carbon dioxide, changing precipitation patterns, and changing patterns of ecosystems and wildlife."
The EPA said its GHG final findings are in response to "the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that GHGs fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. The findings do not in and of themselves impose any emission reduction requirements, but rather allow EPA to finalize the GHG standards proposed earlier [in 2009] for new light-duty vehicles as part of the joint rulemaking with the Department of Transportation."
The findings show, "On-road vehicles contribute more than 23 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions. EPA's proposed GHG standards for light-duty vehicles, a subset of on-road vehicles, would reduce GHG emissions by nearly 950 million metric tons and conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of model year 2012-2016 vehicles."
"Today's announcement, on its own, does not impose any new requirements on industry. But today's announcement is the prerequisite for strong new emissions standards for cars and trucks: the ones the president announced last spring," Jackson said.
The EPA statement concluded, "President Obama and Administrator Jackson have publicly stated that they support a legislative solution to the problem of climate change and Congress' efforts to pass comprehensive climate legislation. However, climate change is threatening public health and welfare, and it is critical that EPA fulfill its obligation to respond" to the Supreme Court ruling mentioned above.