January 24, 2003

Attorneys General Warn That Pollution Poses Serious Health, Environmental Risks to the Northeast
Notice of Intent to Sue posted on the web at:

JANUARY 30, 2003


Calling on the Bush Administration to take steps to protect the public health, environment and economy from the dangers posed by an ever-increasing global warming problem, Attorneys General from three New England states today announced plans to file a lawsuit requiring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate carbon dioxide.

Stating that the EPA has a mandatory duty to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe today issued a formal letter notifying EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman of their intent to sue.

"Carbon dioxide emissions will likely cause or contribute to wide-ranging, adverse changes to just about every aspect of the environment, public health and welfare throughout the Northeast," the Attorneys General state in their letter to Whitman. The six-page letter provides the framework for a lawsuit alleging that under the Clean Air Act, EPA is legally obligated to regulate carbon dioxide as a "criteria air pollutant." By failing to do so, the Attorneys General allege, EPA is violating the Clean Air Act.

Today's notice follows a July letter that Attorneys General Reilly, Blumenthal, Rowe and other state Attorneys General, sent to President Bush identifying global warming as the "most pressing environmental challenge of the 21st century." The letter, issued on July 17, pointed to the May release of the U.S. Climate Action Report 2002, a comprehensive report that the EPA had a lead role in preparing, which confirms the dangers of global climate change and projects that its primary cause, emissions of greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide produced from the combustion of fossil fuels - will increase by 43 percent by 2020.

"In the face of continued inaction, we, at the state level, have no choice but to use the remedies available to us to fill the void left at the federal level, " AG Reilly said. "Global warming will wreak havoc on our health, environment and economy if we don't address it with some immediacy. By failing to take action, the Bush Administration is gambling with the future of our children."

"This Administration's non-policy on greenhouse gas emissions is to do nothing and study everything. Now is the time for action, not more study. Unless we force federal action, carbon dioxide will cause more disease, health damage, and weather extremes, including both droughts and flooding," Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal said. "The recent cold spell offers scant comfort: global warming is an unavoidable result of inaction on greenhouse gas emissions."

"Continued uncontrolled carbon dioxide emissions will have adverse health effects for Maine people, including increased asthma and other chronic respiratory disorders. Insect-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus will be a growing problem," said Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe. "These emissions will also hurt our state's economy. Our forests and coastal waters will see major changes in species mix, altering the delicate balance in those ecosystems. Coastal lands and beaches will erode. Inland lakes and ponds will be more likely to suffer choking algae blooms."

Rowe added, "Mainers will not remain silent while the federal government neglects its duty to regulate pollutants. On behalf of all Mainers, especially future generations, we must demand that the federal government perform its duty under the law."

Under the notice provisions of the Clean Air Act, the threatened suit - known as a "mandamus suit" - could be filed in 60 days. If successful, the suit would require the EPA to "list" carbon dioxide as a "criteria pollutant" to be regulated under the Clean Air Act. EPA would then have to begin a process to determine appropriate "national ambient air quality standards" for the pollutant, which is by definition, the level of the pollutant that is allowable in the ambient air.

The basis for the lawsuit is a 1976 Court of Appeals decision that compelled EPA to set air quality standards for lead. In the case, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) argued that while EPA acknowledged that lead emissions pose a serious risk, the agency declined to list it as a criteria pollutant and address it as such. As a result of the case, lead is now regulated as one of six criteria pollutants.

The Attorneys General are arguing that the EPA has acknowledged in a legal memorandum and testimony presented to Congress that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.

According to the U.S. Climate Action Report, global warming can result in:

  • Increased Temperatures. Average temperatures have already increased by one degree Fahrenheit over the past century, and are projected to increase by five to nine degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. The increase will dramatically change weather patterns in every state and destroy some fragile ecosystems.
  • Rising Sea Levels. Sea levels have already risen four to eight inches over the last century and will rise another 4 to 35 inches during the next century. Rising sea levels will cause more coastal flooding, and it will obliterate vital estuaries, coastal wetlands and barrier islands. The result will be increased storms and storm damage in some areas and dwindling water supply in others, such as California and other parts of the West.
  • Increased Health Risks. The effects of climate change can result in illnesses and deaths associated with temperature extremes, storms and other heavy precipitation events, air pollution, water contamination, and diseases carried by mosquitoes, ticks and rodents. A recently published study in the journal, Science, warns of increased risks from insect-borne diseases such as malaria and yellow fever.

In response to the lack of initiative at the federal level, several states are taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the local level. In Massachusetts, state regulations were adopted in 2001 requiring carbon dioxide reductions by power plants and in New Hampshire "cap and trade" legislation was recently enacted. The legislature in California last summer passed a bill that will lead to the "maximum feasible" reductions of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. Other states are considering doing the same.