Law & Order

EPA Takes First Step Towards Regulating Greenhouse Gases

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a finding that high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations of Americans. The decision comes nearly two years after the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority and duty to consider regulating CO2 emissions.

The court’s intervention was sought since carbon dioxide is a natural chemical rather than a traditional “pollutant” subject to EPA oversight.

While the EPA has the option of drafting CO2 regulations under the Clean Air Act (CAA), the Obama administration would prefer that lawmakers pass a new law to define the best approach for regulating CO2 emissions. That process has already begun. House and Senate Committees are expected to begin drafting legislation this spring, with the goal of enacting a new law this year.

Topics under discussion are limiting regulatory oversight to the largest greenhouse gas contributors—power plants and oil refineries, large factories and automobiles—and potentially establishing a cap and trade system for CO2 emissions or a carbon tax.

Motor-vehicle emissions of CO2 are already effectively regulated via the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. For practical purposes, reducing fuel consumption is the equivalent of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since CO2 is released in direct proportion to the amount of carbon-based fuel (gas) that is burned.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently increased the CAFE requirements for MY 2011 vehicles.

The question will be, are the CAFE standards high enough to address CO2 emissions and can the auto industry afford anything more stringent?

For more information, contact Stuart Gosswein at