Time to Empower EPA to Regulate Green House Gases

By Daniel Hayden

The 6-3 ruling by the US Supreme Court in West Virginia v. EPA  interpreting the US Clean Air Act drastically reduces the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) available tools to address climate change by limiting EPA’s ability to set carbon pollution limits for coal and gas burning power plants. This is occurring in the context of increased evidence of health and environmental crises stemming from climate change. Without immediate action on emissions, these trends will only get worse.

The impacts of climate change pose a major health threat to Americans in terms of air quality, heart and lung related illnesses and rising deaths due to more dangerous storms. RAE believes Congress must act quickly to ensure the EPA has the powers it needs and the clear mandate to act on greenhouse gas emissions and take steps to curb the impacts of climate change. 

Our position is in line with public sentiment, too. A 2021 survey by The Washington Post-ABC News found that 70 percent of Americans believe that the federal government should regulate the release of greenhouse gases.  

In addition to eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, nature-based solutions should be a key part of the solution. Healthy coastal wetlands sequester and store substantial amounts of carbon, also known asblue carbon. Tidal wetland ecosystems can capture and store atmospheric carbon at 10x the rate of a mature tropical forest, per NOAA. 

In Pamlico Sound North Carolina, 37,000 hectares of blue carbon ecosystems store more than 10.8 million tons of carbon – equivalent to the annual emissions of 2 million cars. Ensuring wetland health and protecting these spaces is essential to ensure continued nature-based sequestration (data on page 48). 

Additionally, with increasingly intense storms, estuaries are essential for protecting shoreline communities from storms. According to the Nature Conservancy, lands behind existing salt marshes have on average 20% less property damage when compared to areas where salt marshes have been lost. Submerged aquatic vegetation, which depends on water quality, has also shown the ability to slow down and lessen wave height by creating drag which prevents coastal erosion and protects infrastructure and communities, all while sequestering carbon. 

As we continue to experience more drastic weather shifts, estuary ecosystems will become even more critical in protecting both coastal and inland communities. Their health depends upon stopping climate change, therefore, it is essential that we advocate that Congress empowers the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases. 

Daniel Hayden is the President & CEO of Restore America’s Estuaries based in Arlington, VA.