CrITICAl THINkING IssUe
Should Carbon dioxide Be Regulated Along with other MajorAir Pollutants?
The six common pollutants, sometimes called the criteriapol- lutants, are ozone, particulate matter, lead, nitrogen dioxide, carbonmonoxide, and sulfur dioxide. These pollutants have a long history with theEPA, and major efforts have been made to reduce them in the lower atmosphereover the United States. This effort has been largely successful—all of themhave been significantly reduced since 1990.
In 2009, the EPA suggested that we add carbon dioxide tothis list. Two years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had or- dered the EPA tomake a scientific review of carbon dioxide as an air pollutant that couldpossibly endanger public health and welfare. Following that review, the EPAannounced that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare.This proclamation makes it possible that greenhouse gases, especially carbondioxide, will be regulated by the Clean Air Act, which regulates most other seriousair pollutants.
The EPA’s conclusion that greenhouse gases harm or en-danger public health and welfare is based primarily on the role these gasesplay in climate change. The analysis states that the impacts include, but arenot limited to, increased drought that will impact agricultural productivity;more intense rainfall, leading to a greater flood hazard; and increasedfrequency of heat waves that affect human health. The EPA’s proposal pro- gramto regulate carbon dioxide as an air pollutant has been upheld by courtdecisions
The next step in adding carbon dioxide and other green-house gasses, such as methane, to the list of pollutants regulated by the EPAwas a series of public hearings and feedback from a variety of people andagencies. Some people oppose listing carbon dioxide as an air pollutantbecause, first of all, it is a nutrient and stimulates plant growth; and,second, it does not
directly affect human health in most cases (the exceptionbeing carbon dioxide emitted by volcanic eruption and other volcanic activity,which can be extremely toxic).The EPA in late September of 2013 announced theinitial steps to reduce carbon pollution under President Obama’s Cli- mateAction Plan. The objective will be standards for new coal burning power plants.Conversations are starting to develop standards for existing power plants