WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that climate-warming greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, pose a danger to human health and welfare, a White House website showed on Monday.
EPA's proposed "endangerment finding," sent to the Obama administration on Friday, could pave the way for U.S. limits on emissions that spur climate change.
The substance of the proposal was not immediately made public, but the White House Office of Management and Budget showed EPA sent a proposed rule for an "Endangerment Finding for Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act."
An endangerment finding is essential for the U.S. government to regulate climate-warming emissions like carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.
The environment agency had no comment on the endangerment finding, but such a finding is only sent to the White House when the EPA determines that human health and welfare are threatened.
"I think it's historic news," said Frank O'Donnell of the environmental group Clean Air Watch. "It is going to set the stage for the first-ever national limits on global warming pollution."
Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat who heads the House climate change committee, also offered praise while slamming the Bush administration's record.
"This finding will officially end the era of denial on global warming," Markey said in a statement. "Instead of allowing political interference in scientific and legal decisions, as was the case in the previous administration, the Obama administration is letting the sun shine in on the dangerous realities of global warming."
William Kovacs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was wary of the possible changes. "They're playing a very dangerous game with the way they're moving forward. The regulated community, if carbon dioxide is regulated, swells from about 15,000 to 1.5 million entities. That's the risk."
EPA's move could spur Congress to cap carbon emissions, said Eileen Claussen of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs repeated President Barack Obama's support for a market-based system to limit carbon emissions and allow companies that emit more than the limit to trade allowances with those that emit less. Congressional Democrats also favor this kind of cap-and-trade plan to cut emissions.
In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to make these regulations if human health is threatened by global warming pollution, but no regulations went forward during the Bush administration.
Carbon dioxide, one of several so-called greenhouse gases that spur global warming, is emitted by natural and industrial sources, including fossil-fueled vehicles, coal-fired power plants and oil refineries.
An internal EPA document made public last year showed the agency's scientists believed greenhouse pollution posed a health threat, but no official finding was ever accepted by the Bush White House.
On March 10, the EPA proposed a comprehensive U.S. system for reporting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, a step toward regulating pollutants that spur climate change.
Additional reporting by Tom Doggett and Ayesha Rascoe; editing by Mohammad Zargham