washingtonpost.com
EPA: Global Warming Endangers Health
Finding Could Have Far-Reaching Implications for Economy and Environment

Bill Kovacs
Vice President, Environment, Technology, Regulatory Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Monday, March 23, 2009 2:15 PM

The Environmental Protection Agency sent a proposal to the White House Friday finding that global warming is endangering the public's health and welfare, according to several sources, a move that could have far-reaching implications for the nation's economy and environment.

"By moving forward with the endangerment finding on greenhouse gases, EPA is putting in motion a set of decisions that may have far-reaching unintended consequences," said Bill Kovacs, vice president, of environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "This will mean that all infrastructure projects, including those under the president's stimulus initiative, will be subject to environmental review for greenhouse gases. Since not one of the projects has been subjected to that review, it is possible that the projects under the stimulus initiative will cease. This will be devastating to the economy."

Kovacs was online Monday, March 23, at 2:15 p.m. ET to discuss the issue.

Programming Note: A request has been made to watchdog group, the Clean Air Act, to discuss the other side of the issue. Please consult Tuesday's Live Discussions schedule later in the day.

A transcript follows.

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Bill Kovacs: Hi, I am Bill Kovacs from the U.S. Chamber to discuss with you today's EPA finding on endangerment.

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Washington, D.C.: Please explain why you think that this EPA finding could adversely affect the economy and environment.

Bill Kovacs: The Clean Air Act is not the appropropriate vehicle for regulating greenhouse gases. The CAA was set up to regulate pollutants that are generally in small quantities from large sources. For example the entire CAA regulates 300 million tons of criteria pollutants. If GHGs are regulated under the CAA the agency and public will be overwhelmed by regulating 7 billion tons and 1.5 million entities.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have any constructive, proactive proposals for limiting greenhouse gas emissions, or is the Chamber interested only in trying to scare the public with hyperbolic warnings of short-term costs which ignore much greater long-term costs?

Bill Kovacs: GHGs are emitted worldwide so it needs to be a worldwide solution. Emissions from the developing world are increasing so dramatically that if you eliminated all emissions from the U.S., GHGs in the atmosphere would still double by 2050, triple by 2075 and quadruple by 2100. There needs to be an international solution based on technology.

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Fairfax, Va.: Please explain how this is related to the president's stimulus package and the economy.

Bill Kovacs: The president's stimulus package is attempting to generate tremendous activity building and repairing much of the infrastructure of the U.S. All of these projects should have obtained permits which means they successfully passed an environmental impact review for all air emissions Since GHSs have not yet been regulated they were not part of the environmental impact review. Should GHGs be regulated the projects that were not started could not start until they get a permit for GHGs.

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Berkeley, Calif.: From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions:

"Among illustrative irreversible impacts that should be expected if atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations increase from current levels near 385 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a peak of 450-600 ppmv over the coming century are irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the "dust bowl" era and inexorable sea level rise." While most climatologists would like atmospheric levels of GHG to stay below 450 ppm, and some prefer finding ways to reduce it to below 350 ppm, the current trajectory is 550 ppm by 2035, and it will be difficult to stay below 600 ppm.

From the report: Areas most at risk are already dry areas between latitudes 15 degrees and 40 degrees, with changes already observed in the American Southwest and Mediterranean-many climatologists believe California moved into a permanent drought in 1999, and the Mediterranean is also noticeably drier. Areas most at risk include regions of every inhabited continent, especially regions of southern Europe, northern Africa, southern Africa, southwestern North America, eastern South America and western Australia. The American dust bowl was associated with a drop in precipitation of 10 percent for 10 - 20 years. These parts of the world are expected to see precipitation - evaporation decrease 10 - 20 percent for a 2 degrees C warming. Note: there is NO policy proposal accepted by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that produces a path to a temperature increase as low as 2 C.

How broadly do you consider economic interests in your recommendations?

Bill Kovacs: I believe that there is only one way to address climate change while maintaining a strong economy to pay for the effort and that way is to develop technologies that are clean or less carbon intensive, efficient or can capture the carbon. We must develop these technologie but it will take decades to get them into commerce and during that time we will rely on fossil fuels to run our economy. We need a healthy economy to pay for the development and deployment of the new technologies.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: What are the actual health affects, if any, that the Chamber of Commerce agrees may result from global warming?

Bill Kovacs: EPA's findings have not been released so I cannot comment on them.

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McLean, Va.: Sorry, what are GHGs?

Bill Kovacs: greenhouse gases like CO2 or methane.

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Chantilly, Va.: You say there needs to be an international ruling on these emissions. Is that practical? Shouldn't each country take care of itself, perhaps supervised by a world body to ensure the standards are uniform? I don't understand why this finding is not good news.

Bill Kovacs: Every nation in the world needs to make contributions to reducing GHGs. Each one has something different to offer. Some have rainforests that need to be protected, others like the EU can do cap and trade, others might develop and deploy worldwide technology. We need it all but what we do not need is a "one worldwide approach."

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I am one of those who believe that global warming is better described as "cyclical weather patterns" and that warming and cooling trends are much more influenced by solar activity, volcanoes and such than by man. I am willing to bet two things: 1) That the general public thinks that greenhouse gases are bad in any amount, when the reality is life could not exist without the greenhouse effect

2) The people who call for GHG as reductions to solve global warming would not call for GHG as increases to solve global cooling.

Bill Kovacs: My scientist would probably agree with your comments on solar activity. As to what the public thinks that is surprising. We have done a considerable amount of polling and focus groups and climate change never makes it into the top tier issues of concern.

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Bill Kovacs: Thanks for all your questions. I enjoyed the chat.

Best wishes,

Bill Kovacs

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washingtonpost.com: A representative from Clean Air Watch will be on tomorrow to discuss their position on the report. Please consult the Live Discussions schedule for Wednesday. Thank you.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

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