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EPA Rejects Petitions to Overturn Greenhouse Gases Endangerment Finding

August 4, 2010

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week denied ten petitions challenging the EPA’s 2009 “Endangerment Finding” that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health as well as to the environment. Petitioners included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Peabody Energy Company, State of Texas, Commonwealth of Virginia, Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Ohio Coal Association.  Many have ties to the coal industry, whether as coal producers, industry fronted think tanks, or large-scale coal consumers.  They had sought to discredit the scientific evidence marshaled by the EPA to support its findings.

After months of extensive study, the EPA found that the petitions’ claims were unfounded.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said of the petitions, “The endangerment finding is based on years of science from the U.S. and around the world. These petitions—based as they are on selectively edited, out-of-context data and a manufactured controversy—provide no evidence to undermine our determination. Excess greenhouse gases are a threat to our health and welfare.”

PSR applauded the EPA’s decision not to reconsider the Endangerment Finding.  In response to EPA's announcement Dr. Peter Wilk, PSR's Executive Director stated, “The EPA Endangerment Finding is established on abundant, rigorous scientific research and is a critical step toward setting science based regulations that will protect our health and our planet. PSR’s medical and public health experts assert that the climate science considered by the EPA to make its determination is both credible and compelling.”

The EPA’s 2009 ruling, known as the Endangerment Finding, determined that carbon dioxide, methane, and four other greenhouse gases pose significant threats to human health and the environment.  This decision was the first step needed to begin regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, subsequent to the 2007 Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v EPA that greenhouse gases were air pollutants as defined by the Clean Air Act.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, there have been a string of efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act and the EPA's ability to take action on carbon pollution.  The petitions joined those efforts, which include legislative proposals in the U.S. Senate.  One of the assertions petitioners made was that the EPA was purposefully using speculative and unfounded information as proof that climate change was largely man-made.  They pointed specifically to e-mails exchanged between scientists at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit that they alleged showed manipulation of data.  Assessment by both the EPA and independent sources determined that the e-mails between the scientists were merely parts of a discussion of large data sets, and the quotations in the petition had been taken out of context.

The petitioners cited mistakes in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fourth Assessment report and claimed the report was biased in the studies it chose to include. The IPCC Fourth Assessment, upon additional review, was found to have three mistakes in a 3,000-page document. These mistakes were not significant enough to cause the EPA to reconsider the Endangerment Finding. In addition, the IPCC did include studies that the petitioners argued were deliberately omitted from the report.

The petitions also claimed to have found studies that refuted the science used to determine that climate change was a threat to human health. The EPA found that those studies in fact supported the conclusions of the 2009 EPA ruling.

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