Dec. 24, 2010 by Alice Kaswan

EPA Marches On: Regulating Stationary Source GHG Emissions under the Clean Air Act

The environment received an early Christmas present from the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday, with EPA’s announcement that it would propose New Source Performance Standards (NSPSs) for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from power plants and refineries in 2011, and then finalize the regulations in 2012.  The decision resolves a lawsuit brought by states, local governments, and environmental groups. EPA’s initiative will impose cost-effective controls on stationary sources of GHGs, and complement the agency’s existing initiatives for mobile and stationary sources of GHGs.  While the CAA might not be as flexible or comprehensive as recently proposed congressional GHG legislation, EPA is making sorely needed progress to control the nation’s GHG emissions.

Notwithstanding industry’s ongoing criticism of applying the CAA to GHGs, the initiative is hardly a surprise.  The Supreme Court made clear in its 2007 Massachusetts v. EPA decision that GHGs are “air pollutants” subject to the Clean Air Act (CAA).  As such, EPA has unquestionable authority to regulate GHG emissions from stationary sources, and has decided to develop NSPSs for two of the nation’s largest industrial sources.  According to EPA, fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries emit 40 percent of U.S. GHG emissions …

Dec. 6, 2010 by Alice Kaswan

The environmental blogosphere is already abuzz over the Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in AEP v. Connecticut. The case is of critical importance in determining whether the courts have a role to play in adjudicating climate change. Few believe that the courts are a good venue for developing climate policy. But for the foreseeable future, the question is whether the traditional common law can fill in for Congress’ failure to take more comprehensive action.

In AEP, Connecticut, along with several other states and public interest organizations, brought a public nuisance action against the five largest U.S. electric utility companies. The plaintiffs sought injunctive relief in the form of emissions limits on the utilities’ facilities. In 2005, the district court held that applying public nuisance law to the problem of climate change presented a nonjusticiable political question, and dismissed the case. In 2009, the Second Circuit …

Nov. 2, 2010 by Alice Kaswan

As “Cap-and-Trade Is Dead” continues to echo through the empty halls of Congress, California rolled out its proposed greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade program on Friday. The proposed regulations send a powerful message that, notwithstanding political paralysis at the federal level, the states are proceeding with meaningful climate action.

The proposed cap-and-trade program, to be voted on by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) at its December 2010 meeting, is scheduled to take effect in January 2012. At the outset, it will apply to the state’s large stationary sources, including manufacturing and utilities. Beginning in 2015, the program will also cover fuel distributors, including distributors of transportation fuels and natural gas or propane not covered by the program’s earlier phase.

The cap-and-trade program is just one of many emissions reduction strategies outlined in California’s scoping plan, the planning document that guides the state’s implementation …

July 23, 2010 by Alice Kaswan

After endless negotiations and draft bills, the Senate has given up on climate legislation that would place any sort of cap on the nation’s emissions, and will likely settle for a few select energy initiatives. Congress’ failure to act is galling. Hand wringing is fully justified. But what now? State and local governments have become accustomed to federal paralysis, and will, I hope, continue to march on notwithstanding the tight lock that certain vested fossil fuel interests and industry have clamped on congressional action.  Moreover, EPA’s efforts to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act have become all the more critical in the absence of comprehensive federal climate legislation. A key question, however, will be whether state, Clean Air Act, and existing federal energy laws can make up for the absence of more comprehensive federal climate legislation.

In the last several years, over …

April 15, 2010 by Alice Kaswan

In “Minding the Climate Gap: What’s at Stake if California’s Climate Law Isn’t Done Right and Right Away,” released Wednesday, researchers from several California universities have correlated the relationship between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and associated co-pollutants in several California industries. The results demonstrate that California’s climate law, AB 32, enacted in 2006, could help reduce not just carbon dioxide emissions, but a variety of co-pollutants that have contributed to the state’s persistent pollution. At the same time, the study demonstrates that if the state chooses to implement an unfettered GHG trading program, that program could continue or worsen existing racial disparities in pollution. The study proposes several carefully tailored policies that would maximize a cap-and-trade program’s benefits to public health and help narrow current inequities. The proposals, tailored to California’s emerging cap-and-trade program, could provide a model for federal …

Jan. 22, 2010 by Alice Kaswan

Senator Murkowski’s proposal to disapprove EPA’s scientifically and legally justified finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare would strip the federal government of its primary legal mechanism for addressing catastrophic climate change. If Congress does not think the Clean Air Act (CAA) is the best mechanism for regulating greenhouse gases, it should pass legislation providing a better alternative, not gut the only law that currently applies to still-uncontrolled emissions.

As the Supreme Court found in Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007, greenhouse gases are clearly “air pollutants” as defined by the Clean Air Act. The CAA purposefully crafted a broad definition in order to empower EPA to respond to new threats as they emerge. EPA’s recent endangerment finding was the logical, legally required, and inevitable next step. The science is unassailable: greenhouse gas emissions pose a profound danger to the public health …

Nov. 5, 2009 by Alice Kaswan

The latest version of the Senate climate bill, released by Senator Boxer on Friday, October 30, retains EPA’s authority to establish meaningful facility regulations under the Clean Air Act (CAA) while freeing EPA of the obligation to implement CAA provisions that are ill-suited to controlling greenhouse gases (GHG). (Section 128(g): Amendments Clarifying Regulation of Greenhouse Gases under Clean Air Act (at page 867). The Friday version of the bill is available by E&E subscription here.) The Senate bill’s continuing preservation of core regulatory authority is superior to the House bill’s sweeping preemption of traditional regulation (see my previous analysis). Ultimately, however, Congress should give EPA regulatory authority in a manner uniquely suited to the character of GHG emissions, rather than continuing to refine existing CAA authority.

The Senate bill limits EPA authority to require pollution controls to large facilities: those that emit more …

Oct. 1, 2009 by Alice Kaswan

This post is the second in a series from CPR Member Scholars examining different aspects of the Boxer-Kerry bill on climate change, which was released September 30.

Wednesday was a big day for advocates of traditional regulation. While the Waxman-Markey bill proposed exempting greenhouse gases (GHGs) from key Clean Air Act (CAA) provisions, the Boxer-Kerry bill proposes a greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade program to complement rather than replace the CAA’s standard authority to establish regulations for stationary sources of air pollutants. Almost simultaneously, EPA proposed a rule that would set the stage for applying CAA standards for new and modified sources on the nation’s biggest GHG emitters.  

Most of the Clean Air Act’s existing authority is retained under the Boxer-Kerry bill. That means that EPA can establish standards for all new facilities and for existing facilities that significantly modify their plants. (More specifically, EPA …

Sept. 23, 2009 by Alice Kaswan

The Second Circuit's ruling Monday in State of Connecticut, et al. v. American Electric Power Company Inc., et al. revived a public nuisance lawsuit against the nation’s five largest electric power companies. The case opens the door to a potential judicial remedy for the alleged harm and increases the pressure on Congress and the Executive Branch to devise a more comprehensive solution to our greenhouse gas problem.

In an ideal world, would we give the task of designing facility-specific climate controls to the courts? Of course not. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Congress is paralyzed and EPA’s authority under the Clean Air Act has not yet been translated into concrete limits on greenhouse gases. The Second Circuit’s decision maintains the courts’ traditional common law powers to adjudicate claims that one party’s actions are harming another. The other two …

Aug. 26, 2009 by Alice Kaswan

As fellow environmental law professors David Schoenbrod and Richard Stewart take their advocacy for market mechanisms and skepticism about regulation public, with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, I thought it was time to speak out in favor of a role for regulation. They claim that the climate change bill that passed the House in July, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (the Waxman-Markey bill), relies too much on “top-down” regulation and not enough on pure market mechanisms. Regulations, in their view, are bureaucratic, inefficient, and politically motivated to favor key industrial constituencies. Market mechanisms would be more efficient and effective, they say, because once an emissions cap is set, industry and consumers would make their own rational emissions reduction decisions.

Ideological claims that “markets work” and “regulations don’t work” miss the point. Schoenbrod and Stewart identify failed regulations and …

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