Cap and trade will come through Congress, EPA chief says

WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 07:  EPA Administrator L...

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

COPENHAGEN–On Monday in Washington, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson gave President Obama the power to cut greenhouse gas emissions without help from Congress.

Moments ago in Copenhagen, she passed up numerous opportunities to threaten to use that power, saying America’s carbon cap and trade program will come through Congress.

“When we return home we will work closely with our Congress to pass clean energy reform through the Congress,” she said. “President Obama has called for comprehensive clean energy legislation. I join him in calling for comprehensive legislation. This is not an either/or moment, this is a both/and moment.”

On Monday Jackson signed an endangerment finding asserting that carbon dioxide and four other greenhouse gases pose a threat to human health when concentrated in the atmosphere.

The finding empowers the Obama Administration to regulate those gases through the Clean Air Act, which means the president can enact the kind of carbon cap and trade program called for in the Copenhagen talks whether or not Congress cooperates.

Obama could also make more ambitious emissions cuts than Congress has planned, and the modest cuts proposed for the U.S.–about 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020–have not played well on the world stage. But Jackson deferred several questions about the possibility of greater cuts by saying she would not comment on anything that could affect the negotiations taking place here.

At the close of her announcement Monday, Jackson said the endangerment finding “means that we arrive at the climate talks in Copenhagen with a clear demonstration of our commitment to facing this global challenge. We hope that today’s announcement serves as another incentive for far-reaching accords in our meetings this week.”

But today she lined up with White House Press Secretary Joe Gibbs, who had said on Monday that it was merely a coincidence that the endangerment finding occurred on the first day of the UN Climate Change Conference.

“The endangerment finding and the work here are separate,” she said. “I’m glad we were able to complete our work and make that statement just before, but that wasn’t our impetus.”

There are “reasonable common-sense acts under the Clean Air Act that can be taken to complement legislative efforts,” Jackson said, but those legislative efforts should take precedence in part because they are less likely to be challenged in court.

“When you work for the EPA you know that anything you do is subject to someone suing you. One of the things about a new law (as opposed to a new EPA regulation) is that it erases some of the likelihood of lawsuits on day one.”

The key text of the endangerment finding:

“The Administrator finds that the current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed 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.”

The finding includes a supplementary “Cause or Contribute Finding” that motor vehicles contribute to the problem. That finding motivated the higher fuel efficiency standards enacted by the Obama Administration earlier this year.

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