Bush Administration: Carbon Dioxide Not a Pollutant
by Seth Borenstein
WASHINGTON - Carbon dioxide, the chief cause of global warming, cannot
be regulated as a pollutant, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled
The decision reverses a 1998 Clinton administration position. It means
that the Bush administration won't be able to use the Clean Air Act to
reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars.
Had the Bush administration decided that carbon dioxide is a pollutant
and harmful, it could have required expensive new pollution controls on
new cars and perhaps on power plants, which together are the main
sources of so-called greenhouse gases.
Environmentalists are expected to respond by suing the EPA to try to
force it to regulate carbon dioxide. The real fight is likely to shift
to Congress, where some lawmakers are proposing a new law giving the EPA
clear authority to regulate emissions of gases linked to global warming.
"Refusing to call greenhouse-gas emissions a pollutant is like refusing
to say that smoking causes lung cancer," responded Melissa Carey, a
climate policy specialist for Environmental Defense, a New York-based
environmental group. "The Earth is round. Elvis is dead. Climate change
EPA General Counsel Robert Fabricant took the opposite position in his
12-page decision Thursday. "Because the [Clean Air Act] does not
authorize regulation to address climate change," he wrote, "it follows
that [carbon dioxide] and other [greenhouse gases], as such, are not air
Auto industry representatives lauded Fabricant's position.
"Why would you regulate a pollutant that is an inert gas that is vital
to plant photosynthesis and that people exhale when they breathe?" said
Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers,
a Washington-based industry lobby. "That's not a pollutant."
The Clean Air Act says the EPA can regulate a substance if it comes from
cars, contributes to air pollution and "may reasonably be anticipated to
endanger public health or welfare." The same law broadly defines an air
pollutant as "any air pollution agent or combination of such agents
which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air."
Sierra Club senior attorney David Bookbinder, whose suit prompted
Fabricant's decision, said it was simple: "Anything that people put into
the air can be an air pollutant. The question `Does it do something
bad?' " is what matters.
Copyright 2003 Knight Ridder