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Fed to Fight "Public Threat" Found Throughout New Mexico

April 20, 2009

Albuquerque - New Mexicans are reacting to a ruling by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that greenhouse gas pollution is a threat to public health, and that the agency will take measures to hold polluters accountable under the Clean Air Act. That would include the handful of large coal-fired power plants in and around the Land of Enchantment that power much of the Southwest. Climate change experts say it's a move that could have major positive implications for national energy policy, for New Mexico, and for those living in so-called 'energy sacrifice zones' like the Four Corners area.

Dr. Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, says EPA's new position will lead to better health among many living in the state.

"Many of the health effects disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, frail and urban dwellers, which makes them an important environmental justice consideration."

Climate change pollution has been scientifically documented as a threat that contributes to extreme weather, air pollution, and increasing incidence of disease, according to Staudt. Some say the health effects are exaggerated and that regulating greenhouse emissions will further harm the economy. Supporters of such rule making point to the success of regional climate initiatives and market-based programs like the Chicago Climate Exchange.

David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club, says, while the declaration focuses on emissions from car tailpipes, the federal Clean Air Act directs the EPA to regulate all sorts of polluters.

"They can set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from ships, planes, locomotives, and off-road vehicles, power plants, steel mills, cement factories, et cetera."

Congress will be looking at the implications this week during hearings on draft climate and energy legislation that sets the framework for a cap-and-trade program to control carbon air pollution.

The EPA is taking public comments on the "endangerment" declaration. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold hearings on draft climate and energy legislation commonly referred to as the Waxman/Markey proposal.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - NM