EPA air-quality ruling a wake-up call for Colorado | VailDaily.com

EPA air-quality ruling a wake-up call for Colorado

Mark Jaffe
The Denver Post

Climate change is a global problem, but its effects will be felt regionally ” with sea levels rising on the North Carolina coast and drought in Colorado, according to federal studies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday issued a finding that classified greenhouse gases as pollutants that endanger public health and welfare and blamed them for changes to the climate, including increased temperatures and poor air quality.

The gases ” primarily carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels, methane and synthetic gases used as coolants ” are building in the atmosphere and trapping more of the sun’s heat, according to many scientific analyses.

“This is a call to get started at both the federal and state level to adapt and adjust,” said James Martin, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

According to the EPA analysis, risks in the West include:

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– Higher mortality of trees in Western forests.

– Insect outbreaks and the spread of non-native plants and weeds.

– An increase in frequency and severity of forest fires.

– An increased likelihood of drought.

Water supplies will also be at risk “due to a range of interconnected factors” including decreased snowpack and earlier snowmelt resulting in decreased summer flows, which will disrupt and limit water storage capacity, the assessment said.

“All this has been known ” what is new is that EPA is finally following the science,” said Kevin Lynch, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund.

The EPA was originally petitioned to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act in 1999.

The Bush administration denied the petition in 2003 and was challenged in court.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 rejected EPA’s reasons for denying the petition and directed the agency to rule on the issue. The Bush administration never issued a finding.

“What this does is finally create an impetus for both federal and state action,” said Keith Hay, energy advocate for Environment Colorado.

On Friday, the EPA also released a scientific analysis of the impact of warmer temperatures on regional air quality.

The computer modeling analysis found that by 2050 a rise in summer temperatures will push ozone levels up by 2 to 8 parts per billion on average.

The West did not have among the highest increases, but all regions showed some rising levels under the analysis.

Under the Clean Air Act, levels of ozone ” a corrosive gas created by man-made chemicals reacting with heat and sunlight ” in the air above 75 parts per billion are deemed unhealthy. In the summer of 2008, the Denver area had about 20 days when ozone levels exceeded that standard.

“The EPA and the states are going to have to carefully look at how the Clean Air Act can be used to address these problems,” Martin said.

Mark Jaffe: 303-954-1912 or mjaffe@denverpost.com

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