Carbon Dioxide Not a Pollutant
on Friday, August 29, 2003 by the Knight Ridder News Service
WASHINGTON - Carbon dioxide, the chief cause of global
warming, cannot be regulated as a pollutant, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled Thursday.
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 is happening."
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 pollutants."
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.