NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 21, 2010

By declaring greenhouse gas emissions a danger to public health and welfare, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has positioned itself to regulate fuel economy, set climate policy for the nation and amend the Clean Air Act -- powers never delegated to it by Congress.  It has done this in a proceeding known as the "endangerment finding," say George Allen, a former U.S. senator and governor from Virginia, and Marlo Lewis, a senior fellow in environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. 

The EPA's endangerment finding will trigger a regulatory cascade, burdening America with a regulatory regime more costly than any climate bill Congress has rejected or declined to pass, say Allen and Lewis: 

  • The finding compels the EPA to establish greenhouse gas emission standards for new motor vehicles (about 95 percent of all vehicular greenhouse gas emissions are carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from motor fuel combustion).
  • Because there is no commercially proven technology to capture CO2 tailpipe emissions, the principal way to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted per mile is to reduce the amount of fuel consumed per mile.
  • In other words, greenhouse gas emission standards for automobiles are basically fuel economy standards by another name.
  • The endangerment finding also empowers the EPA to determine the stringency of fuel economy standards, even though the Clean Air Act gives the EPA no such authority.  

Once the greenhouse gas emission standards go into effect, CO2 becomes a "regulated air pollutant" and automatically subject to additional regulation under the Act's Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) pre-construction permitting program and Title V operating permits program: 

  • Under the Act, a firm must obtain a PSD permit before it can build or modify a "major stationary source" of regulated air pollutants, and obtain a Title V permit before it can operate such a source.
  • The problem is that an immense number and variety of previously non-regulated entities -- big box stores, office buildings, apartment complexes, small manufacturers, even commercial kitchens -- emit enough CO2 to qualify as "major" sources. 

Source: George Allen and Marlo Lewis, "The EPA's Shocking Power Grab," Forbes, May 18, 2010. 

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