CPR Archive for Alice Kaswan

As Texas Floods, President Trump Backpedals on Resiliency

by Alice Kaswan | August 28, 2017

With a sense of horror, the nation is watching waters rise in southeastern Texas as now-Tropical Storm Harvey spins across the Gulf Coast. While no individual storm can be attributed to climate change, scientists predict more intense storms, and the wisdom of preparing for future floods has never been clearer. And yet, less than two weeks ago, President Trump issued an executive order that rolled back a federal flood standard designed to anticipate intense flooding. Instead of investing in infrastructure to prepare for flood risks, the executive order jeopardizes future infrastructure.

One prong of President Trump's executive order "streamlining" federally-funded infrastructure reverses an Obama-era order that had wisely required federal agencies to take potential flooding into account when funding projects. Under Obama's Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, jointly developed by many federal agencies with input from a wide range of state and other stakeholders, federal agencies were to define floodplains and associated flood risks in light of the increased risks posed by climate change. Agencies could define floodplains based on the use of "climate-informed science" or could default to a couple of alternatives: They could assume the floodplain would be a couple of feet higher, or they could define the floodplain by the area impacted by a once-in-500 years flood.

Meanwhile, as President Trump is reversing Obama's climate-sensitive flood standard, the nation's scientists are revealing that the flooding in Texas is not an anomalous event. Due out ...

With or Without the Clean Power Plan, It's Up to the States to Transition to Clean Energy

by Alice Kaswan | December 05, 2016
Environmentalists are understandably wringing their hands over the likely post-election demise of the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration's rule to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, which are the nation's single biggest source of carbon emissions. But, with or without the Clean Power Plan (the Plan), the states hold the cards to a clean energy transition.  Even if the fossil fuel interests intent upon perpetuating a profitable status quo end up dominating Congress and federal energy and environmental ...

Untapped Potential: Emissions Reduction Initiatives Beyond Clean Power Plan Are Warranted, Workable

by Alice Kaswan | October 27, 2016
It's been a month since the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments on the Clean Power Plan, and the nation is in wait-and-see mode. But our report, Untapped Potential: The Carbon Reductions Left Out of EPA's Clean Power Plan, released today by the Center for Progressive Reform, shows that, even if the Plan is upheld, continued climate initiatives to control existing power plant emissions are warranted and workable. Our analysis demonstrates that EPA identified numerous available reduction opportunities that were not ...

Landmark California Law Links Emissions Reductions and Environmental Justice Goals

by Alice Kaswan | September 19, 2016
California's recent climate legislation is noteworthy not only for its toughest-in-the-nation carbon reduction goals – 40 percent below 1990 emissions by 2030 – but also for continuing the state's tradition of linking climate and environmental justice goals. AB 197, which accompanied a carbon reduction bill known as SB 32, prioritizes direct emission reductions likely to improve air quality; increases public access to information about carbon, conventional, and toxic emissions; and establishes a new cross-cutting legislative oversight committee to systematically monitor ...

The Clean Power Plan: Continuing Momentum after the Supreme Court’s Stay

by Alice Kaswan | February 10, 2016
The Supreme Court’s February 9 stay of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan may have removed the states’ immediate compliance obligations, and it will undoubtedly remove some pressure for action in states resistant to change.  Nonetheless, the extensive data and fundamental state and regional planning processes generated by the Clean Power Plan (the Plan) may continue to bear fruit even as the Plan remains in legal limbo. The Clean Power Plan has already triggered progress.  To determine feasible reductions on ...

The Paris Agreement and Theories of Justice

by Alice Kaswan | December 21, 2015
As we seek to understand and assess the Paris Agreement over the coming months and years, we will continue to contemplate the critical underlying political and ethical question: who should be responsible?  And to what degree should that responsibility take the form of direct action versus providing support in the form of financing, technology transfer, and capacity-building?  As my Center for Progressive Reform colleague Noah Sachs has observed, the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR) has been a consistent ...

The Clean Power Plan and Environmental Justice: Part Three

by Alice Kaswan | August 17, 2015
On Thursday and Friday of last week, I blogged about environmental justice and the Clean Power Plan. My first post considered how stringent targets and the right incentives could lead to significant aggregate reductions that will indirectly lead to reductions in co-pollutants that have a disproportionate impact on of-color and low-income communities. Friday, I examined the plan’s distributional effects and its provisions requiring community engagement. Today, I’ll examine provisions intended to help overburdened communities benefit from a transition to genuinely ...

The Clean Power Plan and Environmental Justice: Part Two

by Alice Kaswan | August 14, 2015
Yesterday in this space, I discussed how stringent Clean Power Plan targets are critical to achieving significant aggregate co-pollutant reductions that will indirectly benefit many overburdened communities. Today, I turn to classic environmental justice issues: the distributional effects of the plan and its community engagement provisions. As I explained in my short essay in CPR’s policy paper, The Clean Power Plan: Issues to Watch, it is difficult for EPA to directly control the plan’s distributional effects given the realities of ...

The Clean Power Plan and Environmental Justice: Part One

by Alice Kaswan | August 13, 2015
Though directed at greenhouse gases, the Clean Power Plan, by controlling existing fossil-fuel power plants, will have important implications for associated co-pollutants, many of which continue to be emitted at unhealthy levels notwithstanding decades of control.  The degree to which the Clean Power Plan will lead to reductions in traditional pollutants – the extent  of its “co-pollutant benefits” – is an especially important issue for communities experiencing the highest pollution levels, communities that are disproportionately of-color and low-income.  Hence, the ...

Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA: Little Impact on EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gases

by Alice Kaswan | June 25, 2014
In Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, seven members of the Supreme Court upheld the most important feature of the EPA’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program: the ability to require the vast majority of new and modified sources to install the “Best Available Control Technology” for reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs).  As a consequence, eighty-three percent of significant new and modified sources will continue to be subject to the BACT requirement for their GHG emissions. Although the Court reversed, by ...

Controlling Power Plants through Clean Air Act § 111(d): Achieving Co-Pollutant Benefits

by Alice Kaswan | June 19, 2014
Power plants are not only one of the nation’s largest sources of greenhouse gases, they are also a significant source of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulates, and mercury, all of which have direct public health and welfare consequences. EPA’s recently proposed Clean Power Plan, which applies Clean Air Act § 111(d) to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) from the nation’s fleet of fossil-fuel power plants, will have important implications for these ubiquitous co-pollutants.  Although the primary goal of the Clean Power ...

EPA’s New Source Proposal: The 'Category' Question

by Alice Kaswan | September 23, 2013
On September 20, 2013 the EPA proposed new source performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants.  Although the agency repackaged and fine-tuned an earlier proposal, issued in April 2012, it continues to hold the coal industry’s feet to the fire.  The proposal makes clear that new coal-fired power capacity cannot be built without major reductions in carbon emissions. The agency’s new proposed rule continues to convey a critical message to utilities contemplating new energy-generation investments: utilities can ...

GHG Trading and Co-Pollutants: Expanding the Focus

by Alice Kaswan | September 09, 2013
I agree with David Owen’s recent blog post that David Adelman’s article, The Collective Origins of Toxic Air Pollution: Implications for Greenhouse Gas Trading and Toxic Hotspots, makes significant contributions to our awareness of the sources of toxic pollution and our collective responsibility for reducing emissions.  He focuses on the distributional implications of GHG trading for associated co-pollutants, addressing two important environmental justice issues: the extent to which its impacts on industrial emissions could lead to changes in relative levels ...

Environmental Justice and GHG Cap-and-Trade: It's More than a Complaint

by Alice Kaswan | June 13, 2012
California environmental justice groups filed a complaint last week with the federal Environmental Protection Agency arguing that California’s greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade program violates Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act, which prohibits state programs receiving federal funding from causing discriminatory impacts.  They allege that the cap-and-trade program will fail to benefit all communities equally, and could result in maintaining and potentially increasing GHG emissions (and associated co-pollutant emissions) in disadvantaged neighborhoods that already experience disproportionate pollution. While the ...

Applying the Clean Air Act to Greenhouse Gases: What Does It Mean for Traditional Pollutants?

by Alice Kaswan | April 24, 2012
EPA’s March 27 release of a proposed rule to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new fossil-fuel power plants has reignited the long-standing debate over whether the Clean Air Act is an appropriate mechanism for controlling industrial sources. Congressional bills to repeal EPA’s CAA authority have been repeatedly (though unsuccessfully) introduced. Many environmentalists, while welcoming EPA’s initiative in the absence of any alternative, have suggested that new federal climate legislation would be preferable to applying the CAA. In a recently ...

Greenhouse Gas Standards for New Power Plants: Glass Half-Full and Half-Empty

by Alice Kaswan | March 28, 2012
With congressional action on climate change at a standstill, EPA’s new source performance standards (NSPSs) for greenhouse gases (GHGs) from new power plants should be applauded.  As required by the Clean Air Act, the agency is doggedly moving forward to establish emission standards for GHGs, air pollutants that unquestionably endanger human health and welfare. EPA deserves praise for setting a strong standard and proposing it notwithstanding political heat. The glass is half-full. While attention is properly focused on what EPA ...

Waiting for the GHG New Source Performance Standards: A Good Start, But Will EPA's Power Plant Controls Make a Difference?

by Alice Kaswan | January 19, 2012
The Clean Air Act’s potential to address the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions is slowly being unveiled.  EPA’s expected announcement of highly-anticipated new source performance standards for power plants by the end of January will reveal whether the agency has the political will to use its existing authority to re-shape the United States’ dependence upon high-carbon power.  Section 111 of the Clean Air Act is a potentially potent tool. It arguably allows EPA to re-direct new investment away from heavily-polluting coal-fired ...

Parsing the AEP v. Connecticut Argument: Did the Court Ask the Right Questions?

by Alice Kaswan | April 21, 2011
The Supreme Court arguments in American Electric Power Company v. Connecticut on Tuesday raised profound issues about the respective role of the courts and administrative agencies in controlling greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources, emissions that remain uncontrolled notwithstanding their significant climate impacts. As my CPR colleague Doug Kysar has noted, at times the Court appeared reluctant to embrace industry’s political question and prudential standing arguments, arguments that would undermine the courts’ traditional common law powers. If the Court rejects these ...

Also from Alice Kaswan

Alice Kaswan is a Professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, and a member of the board of directors of the Center for Progressive Reform.

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