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In Shift, EPA Says Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Threat To Public

While the White House took pains to play down the implications of the proposed finding -- declining to say whether the EPA would be legally obligated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions if it became final -- legal experts said the agency would have no choice but to do so under Section 202 of the Clean Air Act.

"Once they finalize the endangerment finding, they have a mandatory duty to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks," said Roger Martella Jr., who served as EPA general counsel under President George W. Bush and is now a partner with Sidley Austin in Washington. "They have discretion regarding the timing of that regulation."

Markey's panel will begin hearings on climate legislation next week, and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) has pledged to pass the bill, which he co-authored with Markey, by Memorial Day.

While the Senate has not released a timeline for passing a cap-and-trade bill, a senior Senate aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity said it would move soon after the House began to act. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who handles climate legislation as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said yesterday, "If Congress does not act to pass legislation, then I will call on EPA to take all steps authorized by law to protect our families."

For the past few years, auto manufacturers have fought regulations adopted by California and more than a dozen other states limiting greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, arguing instead for a single, national standard. McCurdy, who said yesterday that his industry has already acted to reduce its carbon footprint, said he hopes the administration can broker "an aggressive, national, fuel economy/greenhouse gas emissions program administered by the federal government."

Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, said the utilities his group represents could not predict how new and existing power plants would be affected if the EPA regulated greenhouse gas emissions under existing law. "This is a road we'd rather not go down, but only Congress can steer things in a better direction," he said.

Environmental advocates indicated yesterday that while they support congressional action, they see the EPA as a critical backstop in addressing climate change. "EPA should initiate its regulatory process now because we've got to get this nation moving," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

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