The Clean Air Act gives the U.S. government broad power to protect public health by regulating major sources of pollutants. Rules developed under the law have, for example, required power plants to install filters and scrubbers to limit the release of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has also used the law to phase lead out of gasoline and issue vehicle standards to reduce tailpipe emissions.
But there’s one significant source of pollution that the agency has so far ignored: all of the consumer appliances that burn natural gas or fuel oil in homes and businesses. The direct combustion of fossil fuels like these within the country’s buildings is responsible for roughly 10 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. On Tuesday, the Sierra Club and 25 other environmental and public health groups filed a petition asking the EPA to use its authority to crack down on fuel-burning appliances.
“Emissions from buildings have a harmful, and frankly scary, impact on human health and contribute significantly to the climate crisis,” Amneh Minkara, the deputy director of the Sierra Club’s building electrification campaign, said in a written statement accompanying the announcement. “It is the duty of the EPA to keep the American public safe from breathing in these pollutants.”