One of the most important environmental rulings in the brief but eventful history of the Obama administration occurred April 17, though the language was deceptively simple -- and kind of obvious.
The Environmental Protection Agency's administrator, Lisa Jackson, declared that greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons, are endangering public health under the Clean Air Act. Separately, she identified four of these gases from tailpipes as constituting the same threat.
The ruling, which will draw comments for 60 days, was hardly unexpected, and met with cautious acceptance from automakers that had long been waiting for this shoe to drop. Although the declaration opens the door to large-scale regulation of tailpipe greenhouse gas (and will require cars to be considerably more fuel-efficient, because that's the only effective way to control climate emissions), automakers have long said they'd welcome a single, national fuel economy standard.
Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement, "Automakers are ahead of the curve and have already been taking action, because we understand that being a successful industry means being part of the low carbon economy...We already offer customers over 130 models that get more than 30 miles per gallon."
The Alliance has been in court over California's bid to regulate greenhouse gases on its own. Automakers hate the idea of two fuel economy standards, one state and one federal.
Environmentalists praised the decision, of course. According to David Doniger, policy director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, "At long last, the EPA has officially recognized that carbon pollution is harmful to our health and to the climate. The heat-trapping pollution from our cars and power plants leads to killer heat waves, stronger hurricanes, higher smog levels, and many other direct and indirect threats to human health."
The devil will be in the details. Consumers have to actually buy the smaller, fuel-efficient cars that will inevitably result from this ruling, and if fuel prices stay low there might be, shall we say, resistance to that concept.
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