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March 30, 2021 by Daniel Farber

Biden's Dilemma: Limiting Carbon from Existing Power Plants

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

Coal- and gas-fired power plants are a major source of U.S. carbon emissions. The Obama administration devised a perfectly sensible, moderate policy to cut those emissions. The Trump administration replaced it with a ridiculous token policy. The D.C. Circuit appeals court tossed that out. Now what?

It wouldn't be hard to redo the Obama policy based on all the changes in the power industry since he left office, which would result in much more rigorous emissions controls. The problem is that the ultra-conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to be very skeptical of the legal basis of any plan that, like Obama's, requires states to expand use of renewable energy.

Opponents of Obama's plan made two legal arguments, which both came up again in the litigation over the Trump rule. The first was that existing power plants were exempt from section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act, which was the legal basis of the Obama plan. The other argument was that section 111(d) merely allows restrictions on emissions from fossil fuel plants but can't require a change in a state's energy …

March 8, 2021 by Daniel Farber
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This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

The COVID pandemic has provided a vivid picture of what happens when ill-prepared governments are suddenly hit with huge responsibilities. Underfunded state and local public health agencies were overwhelmed, while governors and local officials found themselves struggling to obtain and distribute vital supplies, from respirators to vaccines. Efforts to accelerate the transition away from carbon, such as a green stimulus, may run into similar problems if we neglect the agencies that will have to implement policies.

People tend to think of the energy transition in terms of wind turbines, solar panels, batteries, and charging stations for electric vehicles. That can presumably be accomplished through mandates to utilities or financial incentives. The trouble is that all of these changes have to function in connection with a power system that wasn’t built to accommodate them. That requires …

Feb. 24, 2021 by Robert Verchick
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Since I began serving on Louisiana’s Climate Initiatives Task Force, charged with finding a way to zero out net greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, there is one question I get from people more than any other: “C’mon, are you serious?”

It’s not that Louisianans don’t see the need. Sea-level rise could soon swallow our coast, and hurricanes souped up by climate change are now the new normal.

The problem is how we see ourselves. Louisiana, I’m reminded, is an oil-and-gas state. Whatever were we thinking?

My quick response is Louisiana is really an energy state, with more sun and offshore wind than most of our peers.

My longer answer is that I really don’t know how serious we are. But I’ve started following a trio of issues that could tip the scale …

Feb. 22, 2021 by Alexandra Klass
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This post was originally published on Lawfare. Reprinted with permission.

It is now a week out from the start of the massive Texas grid failure that has resulted in numerous deaths; millions of people plunged into darkness; scores of communities without clean water or heat in record cold temperatures; and billions of dollars in catastrophic damage to homes, businesses and the physical infrastructure that supports them. Critical questions surround the causes of this massive disaster and how to plan for the future so that a tragedy of this scale does not happen again.

At this point, there are many facts that Americans already know. Contrary to the spurious claims by Gov. Greg Abbott as well as numerous right-wing politicians and pundits, freezing wind turbines and the state’s history of supporting renewable energy development did not cause the grid to fail. Indeed, wind turbines outperformed grid operator …

Feb. 2, 2021 by Hannah Wiseman
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As President Biden continues to roll out executive orders prioritizing climate change, it is increasingly clear that there will be a relatively rapid U.S. shift toward renewable energy from the sun, wind and other sources.

Indeed, many states are already pushing ahead with ambitious renewable and clean energy policies. These policies will reduce air pollution, spur extensive economic development in rural areas and make progress on the climate front.

This “revolution,” as Biden calls it, is critical. But the bulk of renewables that have been built in the United States are large, centralized projects requiring thousands of miles of transmission lines — primarily in rural communities. A revolution that continues to prioritize these projects risks failure. It threatens to create an infrastructural path dependence like the one that “master builder” Robert Moses sparked in the 1950s. The federal highway …

July 21, 2020 by Alexandra Klass
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Reprinted by permission of MinnPost.

Minnesota has a proud history of holding bad corporate actors accountable — from tobacco companies to opioid manufacturers — when they knowingly conceal damaging information about their products from regulators and the public. This is particularly true when that secrecy results in harm to public health, private property, and public resources.

In late June, Attorney General Keith Ellison acted in Minnesota’s tradition of guarding the public interest when he filed a consumer protection lawsuit against three of the nation’s largest fossil fuel entities — ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and the American Petroleum Institute (API). In the lawsuit, he seeks to recover civil penalties and restitution for the harm to Minnesotans caused by these companies’ decades-long efforts to intentionally mislead the public about the relationship between fossil fuels, the climate crisis, and the resulting harm to public health, agriculture, infrastructure, and the environment.

Described ‘potentially …

July 1, 2020 by Alice Kaswan
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When California adopted its first-in-the-nation regulations requiring truck electrification on June 25, the state took a step (or drove a mile) toward reducing pollution in the nation's most vulnerable communities. The new regulation exemplifies a key feature of California's approach: its integration of climate goals, clean air goals, and, at least in this case, environmental justice goals.

According to the press release from the California Air Resources Board (CARB), trucks in California contribute 80 percent of the state's diesel pollution and 70 percent of its smog-causing pollution while constituting less than 7 percent of registered vehicles. The rule's environmental assessment explains that particulate matter from diesel engines is responsible "for approximately 60 percent of the current estimated cancer risk for background ambient air." These risks are highest near freight hubs, including "ports, rail yards and distribution centers." And these areas, in turn, are often in …

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