Clearing the air

The Environmental Protection Agency will soon determine whether carbon dioxide is a danger to the public, perhaps as early as April 2. As such, the Clean Air Act requires that the agency draw up regulations to govern “greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, refineries, chemical plants, cement firms, vehicles and other emitting sectors,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

Although the regulations are likely to be for facilities over a certain size, some critics are concerned that designating carbon dioxide as a public danger presents legal challenges to all emitters, including schools, hospitals and apartment buildings.

President Obama’s climate czar, Carol Browner, said in late February that even as the EPA moves forward with its rule making, the administration prefers legislation that would regulate carbon dioxide through a cap-and-trade system. Under such a system, emitters would be required to cut their emissions every year, and if they exceed their limits, they could buy credits on a newly created market.

The White House has also been urging Congress to pass legislation to cut greenhouse gases to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and may use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate them if legislators don’t act quickly.

During the same week, the Supreme Court also cleared the way for the EPA to issue new emission regulations of mercury, lead, arsenic and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants, according to the New York Times. Previously, the Bush administration attempted to sidestep the requirements of the Clean Air Act by trying to create a separate regulatory authority for coal-fired plants.