EPA and Air Pollution

The EPA has recently announced a “Proposed Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act.” It is summarized here for instance,

The Administrator signed a proposal with two distinct findings regarding greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act:

The Administrator is proposing to find that the current and projected concentrations of the mix of six key 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. This is referred to as the endangerment finding. The Administrator is further proposing to find that the combined emissions of CO2, CH4, N2O, and HFCs from new motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines contribute to the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases and hence to the threat of climate change. This is referred to as the cause or contribute finding.
This proposed action, as well as any final action in the future, would not itself impose any requirements on industry or other entities. An endangerment finding under one provision of the Clean Air Act would not by itself automatically trigger regulation under the entire Act.

The evolution of this proposal and decision-making is pretty interesting, I think. Under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA Administrator may issue standards addressing emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles or engines after the Administrator satisifes two tests. First, the Administrator must make a judgment on whether the air pollution in question may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare, and then whether or not emissions from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to this air pollution.

Some background: In 1999, the International Center for Technology Assessment along with many other organizations filed a petition claiming that four greenhouse gases (CO2, methane, Hydroflurocarbons, and nitrous oxide) are pollutants and EPA has a mandatory duty to issue regulation under under 202(a) of the Clean Air Act, which EPA declined to do so in 2003 (a decision upheld by the Federal appeals court in Washington). The Supreme Court has reversed the decision of this lower court and holds that EPA has been charged with protecting the public’s health and welfare.

Specifically, in the case Massachusetts vs. EPA (where the Supreme Court overturned the decision of Federal Appeals Court), the argument was that congress has ordered EPA to protect Massachusetts (among other states of course) and thus the state has the right to challenge the rejection of the EPA rulemaking. The courts decision has led to the proposed findings of the EPA Administrator.

The Administrator is proposing to define the “air pollution” in 202(a) to be the mix of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The first four contribute to this pollution from tailpipe emission, whereas the latter two are not emitted by vehicles. The impacts of greenhouse gases and the well documented impacts of within the United States (and supported by, but not dependent upon, impacts outside the U.S.) is what justifies this action. Technical support for such action is provided here


7 responses to “EPA and Air Pollution

  1. There is a problem with their finding. Congress has specific rules for scientific quality that the EPA and other agencies must use to make their findings, and the IPCC reports and others that the EPA used do not have the level of transparency required to meet those quality standards.

    Response– Actually the IPCC AR4 is one of the most rigorously reviewed and referenced reports in the history of science, combining the work of thousands of scientists. If you feel this effort cannot be used for policy decisions, then you essentially must feel (necessarily) that nothing can.– chris

  2. Well this is form a post on climate-audit.org

    >After the NAS panel said that bristlecones should be “avoided” in reconstructions and North here saying that they are “not suitable for use in the reconstructions over the last 150 years”, the NRC used bristlecones in their spaghetti graph, which is now carried forward into the EPA Technical Support Document.


    It is distinctly against the mission of the IPCC to “carry out independent programs”, so the premise of the question is false. However, the IPCC’s author team did engage in a lively interchanges about the quality and overall consistency of all of the papers as the chapter was drafted and revised in the course of review.

    Whether a “lively interchange about the quality and overall consistency of all of the papers” is sufficient to comply with EPA guidelines to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility and integrity of information is surely a question that merits attention by somebody.

    All written expert, and government review comments will be made available to reviewers on request during the review process and will be retained in an open archive in a location determined by the IPCC Secretariat on completion of the Report for a period of at least five years.

    However, Caspar Ammann of NCAR in the US submitted secret comments about IPCC AR4, which he, CRU and IPCC have collectively refused to disclose. Most recently, CRU stated in response to an FOI request:

    EPA recognizes that influential scientific, financial, or statistical information should be subject to a higher degree of quality (for example, transparency about data and methods) than information that may not have a clear and substantial impact on important public policies or private sector decisions. A higher degree of transparency about data and methods will facilitate the reproducibility of such information by qualified third parties, to an acceptable degree of imprecision. For disseminated influential original and supporting data, EPA intends to ensure reproducibility according to commonly accepted scientific, financial, or statistical standards. It is important that analytic results for influential information have a higher degree of transparency regarding (1) the source of the data used, (2) the various assumptions employed, (3) the analytic methods applied, and (4) the statistical procedures employed. It is also important that the degree of rigor with which each of these factors is presented and discussed be scaled as appropriate, and that all factors be presented and discussed. In addition, if access to data and methods cannot occur due to compelling interests such as privacy, trade secrets, intellectual property, and other confidentiality protections, EPA should, to the extent practicable, apply especially rigorous robustness checks to analytic results and carefully document all checks that were undertaken. Original and supporting data may not be subject to the high and specific degree of transparency provided for analytic results; however, EPA should apply, to the extent practicable, relevant Agency policies and procedures to achieve reproducibility, given ethical, feasibility, and confidentiality constraints.

  3. More damning, though, is this.

    The lede:

    Cut to the chase. We rich people can’t stop the world’s 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach. We can’t even make any durable dent in global emissions—because emissions from the developing world are growing too fast, because the other 80 percent of humanity desperately needs cheap energy, and because we and they are now part of the same global economy. What we can do, if we’re foolish enough, is let carbon worries send our jobs and industries to their shores, making them grow even faster, and their carbon emissions faster still.

    Emphasis added.

    This is the case that EPA regulation of carbon dioxide needs to take on board.

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  5. The proposed finding was long overdue, but keep in mind that the Waxman/Markey legislation supercedes this ruling. If climate legislation is passed, the EPA will not be able to consider greenhouse gases in the permit process.

  6. The time for such discussion of fundamental issues has passed for this round. The administrator and the administration has decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision… I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.

    From an EPA e-mail. Sounds like they decide policy first and then decide the science.

  7. >is one of the most rigorously reviewed and referenced reports in the history of science, combining the work of thousands of scientists. If you feel this effort cannot be used for policy decisions, then you essentially must feel (necessarily) that nothing can.–

    The EPA is supposed to operate on a higher standard than ‘trust us.’ To be sed for policy decisions by the EPA, the work has to actually be submitted to the EPA, where everything must be revealed, the work must be reproducible, etc.

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