Experts have been weighing in on the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding regarding the public-health threats posed by greenhouse gases.

“I think it is a welcome, legally well-founded and appropriate move as a matter of policy on EPA’s part,” says A. James Barnes, a former EPA deputy administrator (1985–1988) and general counsel (1983–1985) who now serves as an adjunct professor of public and environmental affairs and law at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law. In the early 1970s, he participated in the EPA’s formation and was chief of staff for its first administrator, William D. Ruckelshaus.

“While Congress did not focus on greenhouse-gas pollutants when it crafted the Clean Air Act in 1970, it is clear, nonetheless, that the greenhouse gases meet the definition of air pollutant in the Act,” he says.

The Clinton administration concluded the EPA had the authority to address greenhouse pollutants, but the Bush administration reversed this position and declined to take action to regulate them, Barnes explains. In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled the EPA does have this authority and should reconsider regulating greenhouse-gas emissions from motor vehicles.

According to Barnes, it would take several years for such controls to be placed on automobiles, but the EPA decision could help push Congress to approve cap-and-trade legislation to limit carbon dioxide emissions from stationary sources, such as coal-burning power plants. Not surprisingly, industry has expressed opposition to piecemeal regulation.

“The fact that EPA is now on a track to go forward with some regulation under the current law, I think, really ups the ante for Congress to address the issue in a comprehensive fashion,” Barnes says.

For Your Organic Bookshelf: Greenhouse Gases