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EPA says greenhouse gases are harmful

WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded greenhouse gases are endangering people's health and must be regulated, signaling that the Obama administration is prepared to contain global warming without congressional action if necessary.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson scheduled a news conference for later Monday to announce the so-called endangerment finding, officials told The Associated Press, speaking privately because the announcement had not been made.

The finding is timed to boost the administration's arguments at an international climate conference — beginning this week — that the United States is aggressively taking actions to combat global warming, even though Congress has yet to act on climate legislation.

President Barack Obama plans to talk with former Vice President Al Gore at the White House on Monday as the president prepares for his appearance on Dec. 18 at the climate summit in Copenhagen. Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work toward combating climate change.

Obama is also meeting on Wednesday with environmental leaders and U.S. business leaders to discuss climate change.

Under a Supreme Court ruling, the finding of endangerment is needed before the EPA can regulate carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases released from power plants, factories and automobiles under the federal Clean Air Act.

The EPA signaled last April that it was inclined to view heat-trapping pollution as a threat to public health and welfare and began to take public comments under a formal rulemaking. The action marked a reversal from the Bush administration, which had declined to aggressively pursue the issue.

Business groups have strongly argued against tackling global warming through the regulatory process of the Clean Air Act. Any such regulations are likely to spawn lawsuits and lengthy legal fights.

Waiting for Congress to act

The EPA and the White House have said regulations on greenhouse gases will not be imminent even after an endangerment finding, saying that the administration would prefer that Congress act to limit such pollution through an economy-wide cap on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Nevertheless, the EPA has begun the early stages of developing permit requirements on carbon dioxide pollution from large emitters such as power plants. The administration also has said it will require automobile fuel economy to increase to a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2016, another push to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The EPA's readiness to tackle climate change is expected to give a boost to U.S. arguments at the climate conference opening in Copenhagen this week that the United States is making broad commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.

While the House has approved climate legislation that would cut emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and about 80 percent by mid-century, the Senate has yet to take up the measure amid strong Republican opposition and reluctance by some centrist Democrats.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., lead author of the Senate bill, has argued that if Congress doesn't act, the EPA will require greenhouse gas emissions. He has called EPA regulation a "blunt instrument" that would pose a bigger problem for industry than legislation crafted to mitigate some of the costs of shifting away from carbon emitting fossil fuels.

The way was opened for the EPA to use the Clean Air Act to cut climate-changing emissions by the Supreme Court in 2007, when the court declared that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Act. But the court said the EPA must determine if these pollutants pose a danger to public health and welfare before it can regulate them.

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