By John M. BroderÂ
The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that threaten public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that for the first time in the United States will regulate the gases blamed for global warming.
The E.P.A. said the science supporting its so-called endangerment finding was â€œcompelling and overwhelming.â€ The ruling triggers a 60-day comment period before any proposed regulations governing emissions of greenhouse gases are published.
Lisa P. Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator, said: â€œThis finding confirms that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem now and for future generations. Fortunately, it follows President Obamaâ€™s call for a low-carbon economy and strong leadership in Congress on clean energy and climate legislation.â€
She said that combatting the emissions that create greenhouse gases would help create millions of new jobs and lessen the nationâ€™s dependence on foreign oil by fostering a more fuel-efficient transportation industry.
As the E.P.A. begins the process of regulating these climate-altering substances under the Clean Air Act, Congress is engaged in writing wide-ranging energy and climate change legislation that could pre-empt any action taken by the agency. President Obama and Ms. Jackson have repeatedly said that they much prefer that Congress address global warming rather than have the E.P.A tackle it through administrative action.
The United States has come under fierce international criticism for trailing other industrialized nations in moving to regulate carbon dioxide and other global warming pollutants. With this move, and the parallel action by Congress toward a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, the American government can now point to concrete progress as nations begin to write a new international climate change treaty.
However, the E.P.A.â€™s announcement on Friday did not include any specific targets for reducing greenhouse gases or new requirements for energy efficiency in vehicles, power plants or industry. Those would emerge after a period of comment and rule-making or in any legislation approved by Congress.
Two years ago this month, the Supreme Court, in Massachusetts v. E.P.A., ordered the agency to determine whether greenhouse gases harm the environment and public health and, if not, to explain why. Agency scientists were virtually unanimous in determining that they do, but top officials of the George W. Bush administration suppressed the finding and took no action.
In his first days in office, Mr. Obama promised to review the case and act quickly if the finding were justified. Fridayâ€™s announcement is the fruit of that review. The E.P.A. action was approved after two weeks of scrutiny by the White House Office of Management and Budgetâ€™s regulatory affairs arm.