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July 20, 2022 by Daniel Farber

Declaring a Climate Change Emergency: A Citizen’s Guide, Part II

This is the second part of a post that was originally published on Legal Planet. The first part ran on July 19. Reprinted with permission.

What Legal Authority Would an Emergency Climate Declaration Give the President?

What government powers would be unlocked by declaring a climate change emergency? One immediate possibility would be to use the same power that former President Trump used to divert military construction funds to other uses — in this case, perhaps building wind or solar farms or new transmission lines. But what else could President Biden do?

The Brennan Center has compiled a helpful list of almost 150 statutes giving the president special powers during emergencies. The list doesn’t map the outer perimeter of presidential powers — there are other laws that give presidents powers to take action on the basis of national security, and the president also has some ill-defined, though not unlimited, powers to take action without explicit congressional authorization. But the list provides a good start.

Here are some of the possibilities:

  • Oil leases are required to have clauses allowing them to be suspended during national emergencies. (43 U.S.C. 1341) If climate change is a national emergency caused by fossil fuels …

July 19, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This is the first part of a post that was originally published on Legal Planet. Click to read Part II. Reprinted with permission.

Based on press reports, it now seems likely that President Joe Biden will soon declare climate change to be a national emergency. Would this be legal? Would it unlock important powers that could be used to fight climate change? My answers are: It would probably be legal, and it would unlock some significant powers. But an emergency declaration is not a magic wand that gives presidents a blank check. It would allow some constructive steps to be taken, but within limits.

I wrote several blog posts about the idea of a climate emergency in 2019. Back then, interest in presidential emergency powers had been sparked by former President Trump’s use of emergency power to help build his border wall. I’ve adapted the …

June 27, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission. To learn more about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, its role in climate and energy justice, and how it can advance energy and regulatory democracy, see our April 2022 report.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has been called the most important environmental agency that no one has heard of. Recently, the D.C. Circuit decided two undramatic FERC cases that illustrate the agency's environmental significance. One involved a bailout to coal and nuclear plants, the other involved water quality.

The first case, Turlock Irrigation District v. FERC, involved FERC's role in approving licensing and relicensing of hydroelectric dams. It also raised an important issue about the role of state governments in approving federal projects and licenses.

Under the Clean Water Act, dam owners need to get certifications from state authorities that the dam will not …

June 9, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Should regulators take into account harm to people in other countries? What about harm to future generations? Should we give special attention when the disadvantaged are harmed? These questions are central to climate policy and some other important environmental issues. I’ll use cost-benefit analysis as a framework for discussing these issues. You probably don’t need my help in thinking about the ethical issues, so instead I’ll focus on legal and economic considerations.

Other countries. When the Trump administration estimated the harmfulness of climate change, its answer was about a tenth of the Obama administration’s estimate. The main difference is that Trump counted only impacts within the borders of the United States. There’s been considerable discussion of this issue among academics. Generally, cost-benefit analysis of government regulations has focused on harm within …

May 25, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published by Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

In West Virginia v. EPA, the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The Clean Power Plan (CPP) itself no longer has any practical relevance, but there’s every reason to predict the Court will strike it down. The big question is what the Biden administration should do next. That depends on the breadth of the Court’s opinion.

The Clean Power Plan was the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate policy. It had three pillars: (1) reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants; (2) shifts by the owners of coal plants to gas and renewables, and of gas-fired plants to renewables; (3) shifts by states toward the same kinds of shifts for their overall power mixes.

The Clean Power Plan has no practical significance today: the deadlines in …

May 4, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Soon after Trump took office, Republicans used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn sixteen Obama-era regulations. If they win control of the government in 2024, they'll undoubtedly do the same thing to Biden regulations. It behooves us, then, to understand the effect of these legislative interventions. A Ninth Circuit ruling last week in a case involving bear baiting, Safari Club v. Haaland sheds new light on this murky subject.

The CRA provides a fast-track process for Congress to repeal administrative regulations. Such a repeal also impacts the agency's power to issue new regulations. In the absence of further legislation, an agency may not reissue the rule in "substantially the same form" or issue a "new rule that is substantially the same" as the overturned rule. As a thorough report by the Congressional Research Service explains …

May 2, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Court watchers and environmentalists are waiting with bated breath for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on West Virginia v. EPA, the Court's most important climate change case in a generation. The issue in that case is what, if anything, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can do to regulate carbon emissions from power plants and factories. Last week, conservative states asked the Court to intervene in another climate change case. How the Court responds could give us hints into just how far the activist conservative majority is likely to go in the West Virginia case.

The new case is a challenge to the government's use of the social cost of carbon in making decisions about regulation. The social cost of carbon is an estimate of the harm done by the emission of a …

April 25, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Last week, the White House undid an effort by the Trump administration to undermine the use of environmental impact statements. The prior rules had been in effect since 1978. Restoring the 1978 version was the right thing to do. The Trump rules arbitrarily limited the scope of the environmental effects that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can consider under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Their goal was clearly to prevent consideration of climate change.

More specifically, the Trump revision cut references to indirect or cumulative environmental impacts and discouraged consideration of effects that are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain. These restrictions flew in the face of everything we know about harm to the environment. We know that harm is often long-term rather than immediately obvious …

April 12, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Trump administration left a trail of regulatory destruction behind it. Cleaning up the mess and issuing new regulations is Priority #1 for the Biden administration. Under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Michael Regan, the effort is beginning to pick up steam.

EPA has begun the year with several major new regulatory efforts. No one of them is transformative standing alone, but their cumulative impact will be substantially cleaner air and lower carbon emissions.

February 28. EPA proposed an unexpectedly strong expansion of the existing rules governing interstate air pollution. The proposal would strengthen existing limits for coal and gas-fired power plants, but it would also add other categories of industry such as cement. In addition, it adds western states like California to the rule's coverage. EPA estimates that the benefits of the rule …

April 4, 2022 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The Biden administration is slowly grinding away at an important regulatory task: reconsidering the air quality standards for particulates and ozone. Setting those standards is an arduous and time-consuming process, requiring consideration of reams of technical data. For instance, a preliminary staff report on fine particulates (PM2.5) is over 600 pages long. When the process is done, the result will not only be better protection of public health. It will also be a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide and other global warming agents.

Quick legal background: The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set national ambient air quality standards or NAAQS (pronounced "knacks"). They are supposed to be set at a level that, "allowing an adequate margin of safety, are requisite to protect the public health." They're supposed to be revised every five …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
July 20, 2022

Declaring a Climate Change Emergency: A Citizen’s Guide, Part II

July 19, 2022

Declaring a Climate Change Emergency: A Citizen’s Guide, Part I

June 27, 2022

Two FERC Cases and Why They Matter

June 9, 2022

Whose Interests Count? And How Much?

May 25, 2022

After the Court Rules: Gaming out Responses to a Cutback in EPA Authority

May 4, 2022

Clarifying the Congressional Review Act

May 2, 2022

Taking the Supreme Court's Temperature on Global Warming