WASHINGTON – The Bush administration, dismissing the recommendations of its top experts, rejected regulating the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming Friday, saying it would cripple to the U.S. economy.
In a 588-page federal notice, the Environmental Protection Agency made no finding on whether global warming poses a threat to people's health or welfare, reversing an earlier conclusion at the insistence of the White House and officially kicking any decision on a solution to the next president and Congress.
The White House on Thursday rejected the EPA's suggestion three weeks earlier that the 1970 Clean Air Act can be both workable and effective for addressing global climate change. The EPA said Friday that law is "ill-suited" for dealing with global warming.
"If our nation is truly serious about regulating greenhouse gases, the Clean Air Act is the wrong tool for the job," EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson told reporters. "It is really at the feet of Congress."
White House press secretary Dana Perino said that President Bush is committed to further reductions but that there is a "right way and a wrong way to deal with climate change."
The wrong way is "to sharply increase gasoline prices, home heating bills and the cost of energy for American businesses," she said. "The right way, as the president has proposed, is to invest in new technologies."
At the just concluded G-8 summit at Toyako, Japan, Bush and other world leaders called for a voluntary 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases worldwide by 2050 but offered no specifics on how to do it.
In a setback for Bush, the Supreme Court ruled last year that the government had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant. Bush has consistently opposed doing that.
Congress hasn't found the will to do much about the problem either. Supporters of regulating greenhouse gases could get only 48 votes in the 100-member Senate last month. The House has held several hearings on the problem but no votes on any bill addressing it. Both major presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, have endorsed variations of the approach rejected by the Senate.
In its voluminous document, the EPA laid out a buffet of options on how to reduce greenhouse gases from cars, ships, trains, power plants, factories and refineries. On Friday, Johnson called the proposals drafted by his staff as "putting a square peg into a round hole" and he said moving forward would be irresponsible.
"One point is clear: The potential regulation of greenhouse gases under any portion of the Clean Air Act could result in unprecedented expansion of EPA authority that would have a profound effect on virtually every sector of the economy and touch every household in the land," Johnson wrote in the document's preface Friday.
Attorneys general from several states called the administration's findings inadequate.
"While we appreciate the effort that EPA staff made in putting together today's documents, the time has long passed for open-ended pondering — what we need now is action," said Attorney General Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, which initiated the Supreme Court case.
The EPA said it had encountered resistance from the Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Transportation departments, as well as the White House, that made it "impossible" to respond in a timely fashion to the Supreme Court decision.
"Our agencies have serious concerns with this suggestion because it does not fairly recognize the enormous — and, we believe, insurmountable — burdens, difficulties, and costs, and likely limited benefits, of using the Clean Air Act" to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, the secretaries of the four agencies wrote to the White House on Wednesday.
Discussing the benefits from reducing greenhouse gases, the EPA said doing nothing more than increasing fuel efficiency standards under last year's energy bill will reduce the harmful effects of global warming by $340 billion to $830 billion over the next three decades.
In a May draft of Friday's notice, the EPA had put the benefits to society of further reducing greenhouse gases at $2 trillion.
Friday's action caps months of often tense negotiations between EPA scientists and the White House over how to address global warming under the major federal air pollution law. It ended with the White House and other agencies citing "extraordinary circumstances" and refusing to review the draft forwarded in June by EPA scientists.
The document released Friday is much more cautious than a determination made in December by the agency that found greenhouse gases endangered welfare, and it also appears to counteract findings of drafts released in May and June that found the Clean Air Act could be an effective tool for reducing greenhouse gases.
"EPA's approach to this has been completely thrown out by the White House, which is only attempting to stall any kind of cleanup," said Frank O'Donnell," president of Clean Air Watch, an environmental advocacy group. "It sounds like the Bush administration is trying to ignore the Supreme Court and to pretend it doesn't exist."
Rep. Edward Markey, chairman of the House Select Committee on Global Warming, called the administration's findings "the bureaucratic equivalent of saying that the dog ate your homework."
"The White House has taken an earnest attempt by their own climate experts to respond to the Supreme Court's mandate to address global warming pollution and turned it into a Frankenstein's monster," said Markey, D-Mass.
Industry groups still expressed concern Friday over some of the suggestions included in the document, which will be the basis for a future action rule under a new president more inclined to take tougher action to address global warming.
"Our point on this is that EPA has set forth a road map which literally throws the entire way which we manage the environment and economy in complete turmoil," said Bill Kovacs, vice president of the Environment, Technology and Regulatory Affairs Division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.