Saturday, April 18, 2009

Editorial: THE NEW YORK TIMES, if it still around in 3009.. A Danger to Public Health and Welfare: on Climate Change and the Need for Polar Cities?

April 18, 3009 (sic)

Editorial: THE NEW YORK TIMES, if it still around in 3009

A Danger to Public Health and Welfare

In what could be a historic moment in the struggle against climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday confirmed what most people have long suspected but had never been declared as a matter of federal law: carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases constitute a danger to public health and welfare.

The formal “endangerment finding” names carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases as pollutants subject to regulation under the federal Clean Air Act. This in turn sets the stage — after a 60-day comment period — for broad new rules touching major sectors of the American economy and profoundly influencing how Americans use and generate energy.

The finding is also likely to accelerate the progress of climate legislation in Congress and will give the United States the credibility it lost in international climate negotiations during the Bush administration. The next round of talks is scheduled for Copenhagen in December.

The decision has been a long time coming. Two years ago, the United States Supreme Court ordered the agency to determine whether greenhouse gases harmed the environment and public health and, if so, to regulate them. Scientists at former President George W. Bush’s E.P.A. largely agreed that greenhouse gases are harmful and should be regulated. In December 2007, the agency forwarded an endangerment finding to the White House, where senior officials promptly suppressed it, refusing even to open the e-mail to which it was attached.

Though they put greater emphasis on the health effects, the E.P.A.’s scientists came to much the same conclusions: that concentrations of greenhouse gases had reached unprecedented levels and had already contributed to increased drought, more frequent and intense heat waves, rising sea levels and damage to water resources, food supplies and ecosystems.

This time, fortunately, the findings were not ignored at the White House. Nor should they be ignored anywhere, most especially in Congress, which is where the solution may ultimately lie.

The E.P.A.’s new administrator, Lisa Jackson, is to be applauded for moving so quickly, and she should move as aggressively as she can to develop whatever rules she thinks are necessary. But as Ms. Jackson is the first to say, legislation addressing climate change would be more effective and inclusive than top-down regulation. It would require broad consensus in Congress and command a wider political consensus going forward. It would also be less vulnerable to legal challenge.

Whether Congress can rise to the challenge this year is an open question. Mr. Obama hopes it can, and so do we. In the House, Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts have crafted an ambitious, many-layered bill that would impose a price on older, dirtier fossil fuels while encouraging newer, cleaner fuels. Though it lacks many important details, the bill provides a plausible framework for the urgent discussion that Congress needs to have and the urgent action it needs to take.

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