WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.
The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States’ negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.
The environmental agency is under order from the Supreme Court to make a determination whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant that endangers public health and welfare, an order that the Bush administration essentially ignored despite near-unanimous belief among agency experts that research points inexorably to such a finding.
Lisa P. Jackson, the new E.P.A. administrator, said in an interview that she had asked her staff to review the latest scientific evidence and prepare the documentation for a so-called endangerment finding. Ms. Jackson said she had not decided to issue such a finding but she pointedly noted that the second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Massachusetts v. E.P.A., is April 2, and there is the wide expectation that she will act by then.
“We here know how momentous that decision could be,” Ms. Jackson said. “We have to lay out a road map.”
She took a first step on Tuesday when she said that the agency would reconsider a Bush administration decision not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-burning power plants. In announcing the reversal, Ms. Jackson suggested that the E.P.A. was considering additional measures to regulate heat-trapping gases. The White House signaled that it fully supported Ms. Jackson’s approach, deferring to her to discuss the administration’s response to the Supreme Court case.