The chief of the Environmental Protection Agency said Monday that the Obama administration is studying how to curb global-warming gases from big industrial polluters such as power plants and factories.
In an appearance before the USA TODAY editorial board, Lisa Jackson also said the agency will soon propose rules to cut greenhouse emissions from cars.
"We will continue to move stepwise down the path toward regulation of greenhouse gases," Jackson said, assuming that the EPA adopts a preliminary finding that greenhouse gases are a danger to public health.
In May, President Obama said his administration would raise fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks by roughly 40% to cut fuel consumption and reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
There has been no public announcement yet about how the administration plans to curb greenhouse gases from industrial facilities. Power plants and other industrial plants produce just over half of the nation's greenhouse gases, the EPA says.
Though she is willing to use current law to cut greenhouse gases, Jackson said it would be better if Congress passed climate legislation. A new law would forestall lawsuits, she said. The House of Representatives passed a climate-change bill in June. The Senate has not yet acted.
A law is also preferable because it could fund clean-energy efforts and other programs that would help fight climate change, said Lou Leonard of the World Wildlife Fund, an environmental group. However, he said, "if the Congress can't move fast enough, then the EPA should act."
Industry groups don't want the EPA to tackle climate in the absence of new legislation, said William Kovacs of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The existing law that would be used as the basis of regulations, he said, would require companies to apply for onerous permits if they want to open new facilities.
Regulating industrial sources with current law would be "a job killer and a project killer right at the outset," Kovacs said.
Other issues Jackson addressed:
• The EPA needs to ramp up its work on air pollution, Jackson said. She noted that federal courts have invalidated EPA rules — written during the Bush administration — to control smog and other air pollutants. New rules are a priority, she said.
• Environmental attitudes are changing, she said. Jackson said her sons, ages 13 and 14, were incredulous when they saw a friend's "huge, gas-guzzling" vehicle. "They are going to be very different citizens when it comes to green than my generation," she said.
• Her colleague in the administration, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, said Monday on National Public Radio that he'd rather live next to a nuclear plant than a coal-burning plant. She declined to specify which kind of plant she'd rather live next to. "I don't know why he did that," she said, laughing.