WASHINGTON (AFP) - Environmentalists are seething after the administration of US President George W. Bush delayed any decision on regulating greenhouse gases, likely leaving any substantive action to his successor.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a 588-page report Friday that cites "the complexity and magnitude" of the issue and calls for 120 days of public comment.
The decision follows a Supreme Court ruling ordering the EPA last year to devise ways to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act.
"The Bush administration's refusal to respond to the Supreme Court and do something about global warming is not just illegal, it is grossly immoral," said Danielle Fugere of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group.
"President Bush's inaction in the face of this crisis is one of the greatest failures of leadership in presidential history," she said in a statement.
The EPA said there were doubts whether "greenhouse gases could be effectively controlled under the Clean Air Act."
EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson wrote that regulating greenhouse gases under any portion of the 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."
David Bookbinder, the climate counsel for the Sierra Club environmental group, said the EPA's decision underscores Johnson's "utter lack of credibility."
"The American public, Congress, world leaders, and even career government officials are counting down the days until this administration leaves town and a new president undoes the damage done by President Bush and makes up for nearly a decade of lost time -- time we didn't have to waste in the first place," Bookbinder said in a statement.
The EPA decision came after Bush agreed during the Group of Eight industrialized nations meeting in Japan this week to cut carbon emissions blamed for global warming by at least half by 2050. It was the strongest language yet signed by the US leader.
The Bush administration has fiercely opposed any imposition of binding emissions limits on the nation's industry and has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas blamed for global warming. (Though in all honesty Clinton signed it, but never presented it to congress).
But the Supreme Court ruled in April 2007 that the EPA must consider greenhouse gases as pollutants and deal with them.
The ruling came in response to legal action undertaken by Massachusetts and a dozen other states and environmental groups that went to court to determine whether the agency had the authority to regulate greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide emissions.
Environmentalists have alleged that since Bush came to office in 2001 his administration has ignored and tried to hide looming evidence of global warming and the key role of human activity in climate change.
At a hearing in November 2006, Massachusetts argued that it risked losing more than 4.5 meters (15 feet) of land all along its coastline if the sea level should rise by 30 centimeters (one foot).
But the Bush administration, backed by nine states and several auto manufacturers, urged the court not to intervene, arguing that if the situation was so dire it could not be solved by a simple legal decision.
It further argued that reducing emissions from new US motor vehicles would have only a minor effect on global climate change.
While the court's decision is unlikely to change US policy, it has ramifications on several other ongoing issues, such as the agency's refusal to regulate emissions from electricity plants which produce some 40 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions. Motor vehicles are responsible for just 20 percent.