WASHINGTON - Responding to a US Supreme Court order, the Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday that the Clean Air Act was "the wrong tool for addressing greenhouse gases" because it would be too costly for the American public and that instead Congress should move forward with passing legislation to tackle the issue.
The high court had ordered the EPA more than a year ago to determine whether greenhouse gases were a danger to the public.
If so, the justices said, under the Clean Air Act the agency is required to develop regulations to reduce the risk.
Instead, Stephen Johnson, EPA administrator, signed what he said was an unprecedented 1,000-page document yesterday that included letters from numerous White House environmental and economic agencies detailing how such regulations could have a negative impact on major sectors of the economy.
"One point is clear," Johnson said. "The potential regulation of greenhouse gases under any portion of the Clean Air Act could result in an unprecedented expansion of EPA authority that would have a profound effect on virtually every sector of the economy and touch every household in the land."
He said he would accept comments on the proposed EPA regulations in response to the court order, but stressed repeatedly that it was the wrong approach because of the costs.
The document also includes a sharply revised version of a May draft by EPA staff members in which they concluded that as much as $2 trillion in savings to consumers at the gas pump could be achieved if greenhouse gas regulations were implemented.
That number was slashed to $830 billion, and the price of gas was calculated at $2 a gallon for the next 30 years. Jonathan Schradar, EPA press secretary, said that he did not know why the numbers had been changed but that an extensive review of the earlier draft had been performed by agency staff members.
Yesterday's announcement effectively eliminated any likelihood of the Bush administration regulating greenhouse gases.
In its document, the EPA made no finding on whether global warming poses a threat to people's health or welfare, reversing an earlier conclusion at the insistence of the White House.
The White House earlier this week rejected the EPA's previous suggestion that the 1970 Clean Air Act can be both workable and effective for addressing global climate change.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said President Bush is committed to further reductions but there is a "right way and a wrong way to deal with climate change."
The wrong way is "to sharply increase gasoline prices, home heating bills, and the cost of energy for American businesses," she said. "The right way, as the president has proposed, is to invest in new technologies."
In Congress, supporters of regulating greenhouse gases could get only 48 votes in the 100-member Senate last month.
The House has held several hearings on the problem, but no votes on any bill addressing it.