On December 7, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a finding that greenhouse gas emissions pose a danger to human health and environment.  The finding sets the stage to allow the EPA to regulate these emissions.  

What impact will this endangerment finding have on the green building industry?  

In my view, the endangerment finding will not immediately impact the green building industry.  Instead, greenhouse gas standards for automobiles will likely first be promulgated based on the endangerment finding:

Along with its final endangerment finding, the EPA also sent to OMB the agency’s final finding on whether cars and trucks "cause or contribute to that pollution," [EPA Administrator Lisa] Jackson said.

Such a finding would allow the federal government to regulate tailpipe emissions by increasing vehicle mileage requirement[s].

Jackson said the government is facing a "hard deadline" of next March to let automakers know of any required increases in fuel economy standards that would affect vehicles built for the 2012 model year.

Once automobile greenhouse gas emissions are regulated, then greenhouse gas emissions will be a "regulated pollutant" under the Clean Air Act, which will trigger permitting requirements for stationary sources.  

As the Clean Air Act is currently written, stationary sources would include many commercial buildings and large residential homes.  The EPA is hoping to avoid the regulation of buildings and homes, though, by proposing the "tailoring rule":  

"In late September, the agency announced a proposed “tailoring rule” that limits regulation of climate-altering gases to large stationary sources like coal-burning power plants and cement kilns that produce 25,000 tons or more a year of carbon emissions."

While the EPA continues down the path of regulating greenhouse gas emissions, the Senate, at some point in 2010, likely will vote on energy legislation that includes cap-and-trade policy to restrict greenhouse gas emissions.  The Obama Administration would prefer that Congress, and not the EPA, regulate emissions:  

"The administration has used the finding as a prod to Congress, saying that if lawmakers do not act to control greenhouse gas pollution it will use its rule-making power to do so. At the same time, the president and his top environmental aides have said that they prefer such a major step be taken through the legislative process."

The House of Representatives’ energy bill contained significant programs that would benefit the green building industry and any Senate bill is likely to include similar programs.  An EPA ruling restricting greenhouse gas emissions, on the other hand, likely would not create programs for the green building industry.  Instead, its effects would likely reverberate in the green building industry by increasing energy costs and making energy efficiency strategies more appealing. 

Which governmental body do you think will first regulate greenhouse gas emissions?     Related Links   Green Building Guide to Waxman-Markey (GBLU)

Greenhouse Gases Imperil Health, E.P.A. Announces (NY Times)
    EPA CO2 Endangerment Finding to the White House (Reuters)   Photo:  Kempton