The Environmental Protection Agency is set to declare carbon dioxide a dangerous pollutant, EPA head Lisa Jackson announced on Monday. That action would trigger federal regulation of industrial CO2 sources like coal-fired power plants, cars, refineries and factories.

Jackson told reporters that a formal “endangerment finding” will likely “happen in the next months.” It would obligate the agency to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act.

The announcement is seen as a possible boost to climate change legislation that is being bitterly fought by Big Oil and other corporate interests and their right-wing allies, using front groups and “Astroturf” efforts including forged letters purporting to be from grassroots minority groups.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act, passed by the House in June and still be to acted on by the Senate, would limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming gases. The House vote, 219-212, was the “first time either house of Congress had approved a bill meant to curb the heat-trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change,” New York Times reporter John Broder noted.

The bill is backed by major labor and environmental groups. Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said his union had worked closely with House lawmakers to ensure that the measure protects both jobs and the global climate.

While some environmental advocates criticize the bill for not being strong enough, the oil and gas lobby and far-right groups like the Heritage Foundation have gone all-out to try to block it, evidently worried that it will set the stage for stronger action down the road. The League of Conservation Voters notes that in the first six months of 2009, “Big Oil and other polluters have spent nearly $120 million trying to defeat clean energy legislation and will stop at nothing to do so.”

Supporters of the bill are reportedly hoping that the threat of EPA-mandated limits will dampen the sabotage efforts and spur Senate action. The idea is that if the smokestack industries realize they are going to get regulated anyway and could win more concessions through the legislative process, they will stop trying to block or wreck the legislation.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that greenhouse gases qualified as pollutants and could be regulated if the government determined they threatened the public. Carbon dioxide is the major greenhouse gas in the Earth’s atmosphere.

President Obama and Jackson have said they would prefer that Congress take the lead as opposed to a federal agency imposing rules. But, Jackson said Monday, “Two years is a long time for this country to wait for us to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling.”

The EPA is making clear that any regulations it issues will target major carbon dioxide emitters such as coal-burning power plants — not small businesses, schools or churches as the Chamber of Commerce and other anti-regulation interests have claimed.

In February, in a speech at Georgetown University Law School, Jackson debunked the “myth” that the agency is “going to regulate cows, Dunkin’ Donuts, Pizza Huts, and baby bottles.” What the Obama administration is trying to do, Jackson said, is to “change the country’s direction fairly significantly on climate.”

Next month the EPA is expected take on CO2 emissions from cars and trucks, raising the federal fuel efficiency standard to 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.

Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and John Kerry, D-Mass., who have been preparing a Senate version of the climate change bill, said Monday they were delaying introducing the measure until “later in September” in part because of the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and because of the priority on passing health care reform.

Responding to Monday’s announcement that the EPA will move ahead on curbing carbon dioxide, Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, commented on the organization’s blog, “We welcome this proposal and encourage the Obama administration to move ahead. We can’t just sit, wait and hope for Senate action some day. The climate clock is ticking.”

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Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.