Climate 411

A Win for Cleaner Air and a Stronger Economy: Court Dismisses Challenges to Fuel Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Standards for Big Trucks

Source: Flickr/MoDOT Photos

Source: Flickr/MoDOT Photos

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington D.C. Circuit dismissed challenges to America’s historic, first-generation standards to improve fuel efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from large trucks and buses.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT)  standards are based on common sense, highly cost-effective technologies that will make our nation’s fleet of large trucks and buses more efficient while also reducing harmful, climate-destabilizing pollution, limiting our dependence on foreign oil, and saving money for both truckers (in the form of lower fuel costs) and all Americans (in the form of lower shipping costs).

These cross-cutting benefits have won broad-based support for the standards — including support from America’s truck and engine manufacturers, from states, and from public health and environmental groups.

In response to President Obama’s announcement of these first generation standards in 2011, many of these organizations sent letters of support. Here are just a few examples:

Cummins Inc. recognizes the benefits for the country of a National Program to address greenhouse gases (OHOs) and fuel efficiency from medium and heavy-duty trucks and buses. Cummins fully supports the adoption of such a National Program and welcomes this opportunity to be a partner in helping to advance that goal.
Cummins Inc.

[Daimler] is committed to working with EPA and NHTSA, the states, and other interested parties to help address three of the most pressing issues facing the U.S. today and into the future: greenhouse gas reductions, fuel efficiency improvements, and increased energy security.
Daimler Trucks North America

These standards apply to vehicles manufactured between 2014 and 2018. That means they are now in their second year of effectiveness, and they are driving technological innovations that are cleaning our air and helping American truck manufacturers to thrive. Through October of 2014, sales of fuel efficient trucks were 20 percent higher than their 2013 levels. 2015 is projected to be even stronger, with forecasts suggesting it will be the third strongest year ever for truck sales.

Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America, put it succinctly:

[These standards] are very good examples of regulations that work well.

That is very good news, because the President has announced that EPA and DOT will soon issue second-generation greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for large trucks. We anticipate that those standards will be proposed late this spring or early in summer.

Many of the same companies that stood with the President in announcing a blueprint to develop the second phase standards also collaborated on the first generation clean trucks standards. Among those supporting the President’s announcement of second phase standards are major U.S. manufacturers and fleets such as Conway, Cummins, Eaton, Wabash National, Waste Management and the American Trucking Association.

The second generation standards will create an important opportunity to further reduce greenhouse gases and enhance the fuel economy of our nation’s trucks.

EDF is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation to set new standards for heavy trucks that cut fuel consumption by 40 percent in 2025 compared to 2010. That equates to an average of 10.7 miles per gallon for new tractor-trailer trucks. Technology solutions are available today to meet the goal, and strong standards will further drive innovation.

In fact, Daimler Trucks North America may have provided the best example yet of our future potential with its entry in the Department of Energy Super Truck program. Daimler announced that its team has:

[A]chieved 115 percent freight efficiency improvement, surpassing the Department of Energy program’s goal of 50 percent improvement.

Daimler’s truck registered 12.2 miles per gallon recently – a leap above the six miles per gallon typical of pre-2014 trucks.

Rigorous second generation standards will also secure critical benefits:

When Americans stand together, we can forge big gains in strengthening our economy and protecting our environment.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Leave a comment

New Climate-Economic Thinking

By Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman

Each ton of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere today causes about $40 worth of damages. So at least says standard economic thinking.

A lot goes into calculating that number. You might call it the mother of all benefit-cost analyses. It's bean-counting on a global scale, extending out decades and centuries. And it's a process that requires assumptions every step along the way.

The resulting $40 figure should be taken for what it is: the central case presented by the U.S. Government Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon when using its preferred 3% discount rate for all future climate damages. But it is by no means the full story.

Choose a different discount rate, get a different number. Yale economist Bill Nordhaus uses a discount rate of slightly above 4%. His resulting price is closer to $20 per ton of carbon dioxide. The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change uses 1.4%. The resulting price per ton is over $80.

And the discount rate is not the only assumption that makes this kind of a difference. In Climate Shock, we present the latest thinking on why and how we should worry about the right price for each ton of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, emitted into the atmosphere. There are so many uncertainties at every step—from economic projections to emissions, from emissions to concentrations, from concentrations to temperatures, and back to economics in form of climate damages—that pointing to one single, final number is false precision, misleading, or worse.

Of course, that does not mean that we shouldn't attempt to make this calculation in the first place. The alternative to calculating the cost of carbon is to use a big fat zero in government benefit-cost calculations. That's clearly wrong.

Most everything we know about what goes into calculating the $40 figure leads us to believe that $40 is the lower bound for sensible policy action. Most everything we know that is left out would push the number higher still, perhaps much higher.

As just one example, zero in on the link between carbon concentrations in the atmosphere and eventual temperature outcomes. We know that increasing concentrations will not decrease global temperatures. Thank you, high school chemistry and physics. The lower bound for the temperature impact when carbon concentrations in the atmosphere double can be cut off at zero.
In fact, we are pretty sure it can be cut off at 1°C or above. Global average temperatures have already warmed by over 0.8°C, and we haven't even doubled carbon concentrations from preindustrial levels. Moreover, the temperature increases in this calculation should happen 'eventually'—over decades and centuries. Not now.

What's even more worrying is the upper tail of that temperature distribution. There's no similarly definitive cut-off for the worst-case scenario. In fact, our own calculations (based on an International Energy Agency (IEA) scenario that greenhouse gas concentrations will end up around 700 parts per million) suggest a greater-than-10% chance of eventual global average warming of 6°C or above.

Focus on the bottom row in this table. If you do, you are already ahead of others, most of whom focus on averages, here depicted as "median Δ°C" (eventual changes in global average surface temperatures). The median is what we would expect to exceed half the time, given particular greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. And it's bad enough.

But what really puts the "shock" into Climate Shock is the rapid increase in probabilities of eventual temperatures exceeding 6°C, the bottom row. While average temperatures go up steadily with rising concentrations, the chance of true extremes rises rapidly:

That 6°C is an Earth-as-we-know-it-altering temperature increase. Think of it as a planetary fever. Normal body temperatures hover around 37°C. Anything above 38°C and you have a fever. Anything above 40°C is life-threatening.

Global average warming of 3°C wouldn't be unprecedented for the planet as a whole, in all of it geological history. For human society, it would be. And that's where we are heading at the moment—on average, already assuming some 'new policies' to come into play that aren't currently on the books.

It's the high-probability averages rather than low-probability extremes that drive the original $40 figure. Our table links greenhouse gas concentrations to worryingly high probability estimates for temperatures eventually exceeding 6°C, an outcome that clearly would be catastrophic for human society as we know it.

Instead of focusing on averages then, climate ought to be seen as a risk management problem. Some greenhouse gas concentration thresholds should simply not be crossed. The risks are too high.

This kind of focus on temperature extremes is far from accepted wisdom. We argue it ought to be.

Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman are co-authors of Climate Shock (Princeton University Press, 2015). This post was originally published by The Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Posted in Economics, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Leave a comment

Top policies to help Americans breathe easier, and what you can do

Source: Flickr/Kate Gardiner

A year ago, we joined our partners at the League of United Latin American Citizens on Twitter to ask U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about the impacts of air pollution on our health.

Many of the questions participants raised focused on the connection between air quality and asthma.

In a follow-up to the event, McCarthy reminded us that while there’s no known cure for asthma, “understanding how indoor and outdoor air pollutants can trigger an asthma attack or episode is an important step in managing this condition.”

Fortunately, decision-makers are now considering several new policies that would decrease the number of asthma attacks and the severity of symptoms.

Cutting climate and air pollution

As global temperatures rise, more ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, builds up. This, in turn, leads to more frequent and intense asthma attacks.

To address these problems, the EPA is working on several measures to limit the pollution that causes climate change, worsens air quality and threatens our health. The agency is:

  • finalizing a rule to reduce emissions from power plants, the largest source of climate pollution in the United States.
  • working on a rule to limit climate pollution from oil and gas production. It would also reduce toxic chemical releases during the energy extraction process.
  • proposing a stronger ozone standard to reduce smog pollution and restore healthy air.
Reducing the threat of toxic chemicals

Many chemicals found indoors are also known or suspected “asthmagens,” environmental agents that cause or exacerbate asthma. These chemicals can affect us in our homes – or in any of the indoor areas where Americans spend about 90 percent of their time.

Today, we’re exposed to chemicals in everyday household products in large part because of a 40-year old chemical safety law that has failed to protect us. The law is so weak, in fact, that EPA can’t even regulate chemicals known to cause cancer.

Congress is therefore considering reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act. If a new bill passes, we will have better safeguards against many asthmagens.

Get involved

Asthma affects nearly 26 million people in the U.S., including 1 in 10 Latino children who currently suffer from asthma. An even higher proportion of Latino kids, 14 percent, have been diagnosed with asthma at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, this illness presents a particular concern for Latinos in our country.

Studies have also shown that Latino-Americans are less likely than non-Latino whites to be diagnosed with asthma, have an asthma management plan, or use a controller medication. As a result, Latino children are 40 percent more likely than non-Latino white children to die from this condition.

If you’d like to hear more about these topics, you can join us for our Latino Health and the Environment Twitter Town Hall Series.

First up is an Earth Day Twitter Town Hall, where McCarthy will be answering questions about environmental issues and human health, why the Latino community is disproportionately affected by climate change, and what we can all do to protect ourselves.

Then stay tuned in May for our second Twitter Town Hall, which will focus on the health impacts of toxic chemicals.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Posted in Health, News, Policy| Leave a comment

Electric Reliability and the Clean Power Plan: Perspectives of a Former Regulator

1024px-Wind_Turbines_and_Power_Lines,_East_Sussex,_England_-_April_2009

Source: Wikimedia Commons

There is no great disagreement that the U.S. energy system is transforming. With or without additional environmental regulations, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Clean Power Plan, this transition is occurring. Our history and experience have demonstrated that we can weather it without threatening our uniform and non-negotiable commitment to reliability.

But to do that, we need to tap all of the tools at our disposal to ensure a robust, reliable, and integrated energy system that is no longer dependent exclusively upon centralized, fossil fuel generation. Done right, the resulting change can deliver benefits to customers, the economy, the environment, electric companies, innovators, and workers alike.

EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan would place national limits on carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants for the first time ever. In doing so, it would create long-term market signals that will help drive investments in energy efficiency, demand response, and renewable energy for years to come – not only reducing carbon pollution from the power sector to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, but also by putting us on a path to a more reliable and resilient energy system.

As a former Commissioner of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission and electric system operator, I understand preserving the reliability of electric service is a paramount public responsibility for energy and environmental regulators, and for the power companies they oversee. As a Commissioner, I served as vice chair of the Critical Infrastructure Committee, a member of the Electricity Committee, and on the Task Force for Environmental Regulation and Generation within the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC). I co-chaired the National Electricity Forum 2012 to modernize the nation’s electricity infrastructure. At the request of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, I have provided testimony on reliability of the bulk power system before both of those bodies.

Prior to my appointment to the Commission, I served for six years as the Deputy Director and then Director of the City of Columbus, Ohio Department of Public Utilities. My duties there included running the City’s electric distribution utility. This hands-on experience meeting the daily needs of electricity customers as both a regulator and a system operator – while protecting the financial integrity of the system – gives me a keen appreciation for the real-world demands and importance of system reliability.

From that perspective, perhaps the most critical feature of the proposed Clean Power Plan is the flexibility it provides to states and power companies to craft individualized compliance plans that reduce pollution while preserving and strengthening electric reliability. EPA’s approach gives clear guidance on what limits and metrics must be met, but leaves states the flexibility to design solutions that will boost the economy and meet those requirements as they see fit.

That flexibility acts as a built-in “safety valve,” affording each state multiple pathways for compliance and providing leeway for states to make plans that are appropriate to their unique circumstances. Moreover, this flexibility complements the robust framework of operating practices, market instruments, and planning processes that already exist to address short-term and long-term reliability issues.

Leading experts on energy policy and electric reliability have recently weighed in to confirm reducing carbon pollution goes hand in hand with electric reliability, thanks to the flexible structure of the Clean Power Plan and our existing reliability tools and processes. According to a recent report by The Brattle Group, the combination of the ongoing transformation of the power sector, the steps already taken by system operators, the large and expanding set of technological and operational tools available, and the flexibility under the Clean Power Plan are likely sufficient to ensure compliance will not come at the cost of reliability.

And, just last week, Dr. Susan Tierney – a former Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Energy and former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities— joined two other energy policy experts in sending a letter and report to the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) concluding:

Evidence does not support the argument that the proposed CPP will result in a general and unavoidable decline in reliability.

The report provides examples of recent instances in which grid operators, FERC, and other entities have effectively used existing processes and tools to deftly address other kinds of reliability challenges in recent years, some of which were significant and unanticipated.

In 45 years of implementing the Clean Air Act, clean air standards have never caused the lights to go out. And nothing about the proposed Clean Power Plan – with all of its tremendous flexibility – will alter that record.

That’s a remarkable testament to the institutions and processes that exist to protect reliability, as well as the careful process EPA uses in developing clean air standards – and it is great news for families and communities who want and deserve clean air in addition to reliable, affordable electricity. The Clean Power Plan, like our other vital clean air standards, will help deliver both.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| 1 Response

Experts Agree: We Can Preserve Electric Reliability While Protecting Public Health Under the Clean Power Plan

power-poles-503935_1920Last June, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first ever national carbon pollution standards for existing power plants. Fossil fuel-fired power plants account for almost 40% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, making them the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the nation and one of the single largest categories of greenhouse gas sources in the world.

Under the Clean Power Plan, these emissions will decline to 30% below 2005 levels by 2030 – accompanied by a significant decline in other harmful pollutants from the power sector, such as sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen. The power sector is already halfway to this target, already 15% below 2005 levels.

The EPA has carefully designed the Clean Power Plan to provide extensive flexibility so that states and power companies can continue to deliver a steady flow of electricity while deploying cost-effective measures to reduce carbon pollution over the next fifteen years.

The Clean Power Plan:

  • Allows states and power companies to determine the optimal timing of emission reductions over a ten year-long averaging period starting in 2020;
  • Allows states to decide how to most cost-effectively reduce carbon pollution, including through market-based programs and clean energy policies that have been successfully used around the country; and
  • Allows states to cooperate with one another in complying with the long-term reduction goals.

In addition, the Clean Power Plan preserves the ability of grid operators to deploy long-standing tools and processes that have been successfully used in the past to keep the electric grid functioning reliability during periods of significant change. EDF has released a white paper identifying these well-established tools and practices, and describing how they will continue to ensure a reliable grid under the Clean Power Plan.

Grid operators are well-equipped to ensure reliability as we transition to a cleaner and more efficient power sector, just as they have under all previous Clean Air Act regulations. EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan is eminently achievable, reliable, and cost-effective – and integral to our climate security, human health and prosperity.

Ample tools and practices exist to ensure a clean and reliable grid

Grid operators have long-standing tools and practices available to ensure that our nation’s grid continues to provide power reliably. These include well-established planning principles that have motivated large amounts of new generation year in, year out. Since 2000, roughly 30 gigawatts of new generation have been added per year, largely consisting of low or zero-emitting resources such as wind turbines and natural gas combined cycle power plants. Over the next two years, the solar industry alone expects to add another 20 gigawatts of power. In addition, reliability is ensured through tools and practices including:

  • Transmission Upgrades: Because upgraded transmission infrastructure can help move generation more easily, transmission upgrades can enhance reliability without needing to add new generation.
  • Long-term forecasting: Grid planners and reliability regulators forecast the needs of the electric grid years in advance. By determining how much transmission and generation will be needed, any long-term reliability issue can be identified and resolved quickly and effectively.
  • Reliability Must-Run (“RMR”) Contracts: Short term contracts that, in the case of sudden and unexpected retirements or plant losses, require a unit to be kept operational until reliability can be ensured through the use of longer term tools.
  • Operating Procedures: Manuals and standard practices exist to ensure that, in the case of particular reliability scenarios, grid operators know the best way to respond.

These tools are already in use throughout the country, and have proven extremely effective in maintaining reliability over the last few decades – even as the power sector has begun a rapid transition towards cleaner sources of electricity, and has implemented important public health protections under the Clean Air Act. In the Mid-Atlantic region, for example, roughly 12,500 MW of coal-fired power plant capacity retired from 2010 to 2014 due to economic reasons. Employing these well-established tools and practices, the region saw a large quantity of new resources added, without reducing reliability.

Clean energy resources and reliability

In complying with the Clean Power Plan, states and power companies will be able to draw on reliable, low-cost clean energy resources like demand response, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is almost three times cheaper than the next cheapest alternative and primed for enormous growth. Resources like demand response help prevent blackouts, such as in the case of the 2013 polar vortex. And renewable energy continues to grow, with states such as Maine, California, and Iowa already using it to meet close to one quarter of their entire demand.

No reliability crisis has resulted from implementing clean air standards

Claims that we can’t have clean air and a reliable power grid are as old as the Clean Air Act itself — and have never proven accurate. As far back as the 1970s, a power company issued an ad claiming the lights would go out as a result of the Clean Air Act. In recent years, some power companies that oppose public health protections under the Clean Air Act have made similar claims that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and Cross-State Air Pollution Rule will harm electric reliability.

These assertions have consistently been discredited: in the 45-year history of the Clean Air Act, no emission standard has ever caused the lights to go out. This is a testament both to the rigorous process and analyses EPA relies on to develop Clean Air Act standards, as well as the effective tools that grid operators and other authorities use to manage reliability on a short-term and long-term basis.

Numerous states, power companies, and reliability experts have indicated that the Clean Power Plan is achievable

A diverse collection of energy experts and power company officials have recently made comments noting the feasibility of achieving the emission reduction goals of the Clean Power Plan; describing their experience in reducing carbon emissions in a cost-effective way as well as explaining approaches to ensure reliability is maintained while making progress to reduce carbon emissions.

Written Testimony of Kathleen Barrón, Senior Vice President, Exelon Corporation, Before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: Technical Conference on EPA’s Clean Power Plan (Feb. 19, 2015):

Exelon strongly supports EPA’s goal of reducing carbon emissions from the electric power sector. As EPA notes in the Clean Power Plan, the current level of carbon emissions is environmentally unsustainable, and action must be taken now in order to prevent significant, irreversible environmental damage and major economic loss. By providing regulatory certainty, well-designed carbon reduction rules will be a driving force to modernize our aging electric system so that our customers will continue to have a safe and reliable electric system to support our Nation’s economic growth.”

Written Testimony of Susan F. Tierney, Ph.D, Analysis Group, Before the House Comm. on Energy and Commerce: Hearing to Examine EPA’s Proposed 111(d) Rule for Existing Power Plants (Apr. 14, 2015):

The Clean Power Plan provides states a wide range of compliance options and operational discretion that can prevent reliability issues while also reducing carbon pollution and compliance costs. Experience has shown that such approaches allow for seamless, reliable implementation of emissions-reduction targets. By contrast, many stakeholders’ concerns about the Clean Power Plan presume inflexible implementation, are based on worst-case scenarios, and assume that policy makers, regulators, and market participants will stand on the sidelines until it is too late to act. There is no historical basis for these assumptions.”

Joshua Epel, Chairman, Colorado Public Utilities Commission, Before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission: Western Regional Technical Conference on EPA’s Clean Power Plan (Feb. 25, 2015).

In Colorado we have charted our own course to decarbonize our electric system. . . . Now when the Clean Power Plan is finalized I believe that Colorado as a state will come up with an approach which will meet the revised goals . . . . I’m very pleased with some of the steps we have taken with just approved unprecedented amounts of utility scale solar . . . . We are doing a lot with wind, we are doing a lot with innovat[ive] approaches actually passed by the legislature. . . . So we think there’s a lot of innovative tools for Colorado to use."

Flexibility in the Clean Power Plan

EPA’s Clean Power Plan wholly preserves the ability of grid operators, power companies, and other institutions to deploy the well-established tools and practices that ensure the reliable operation of the power grid.

The Plan provides state-wide goals for emission reductions, while affording states ample flexibility in how those goals must be met. States are not limited to using any particular pathway to meet the Plan, and can deploy a variety of existing and new policies to meet the state-wide greenhouse gas reduction goals, including flexible market-based tools. This already existing flexibility allows grid operators the freedom to use long-standing and tested actions to ensure reliability.

Although the Clean Power Plan represents an important step forward for our country, it builds on a nation-wide trend toward a cleaner and more efficient power sector that is already under way. As noted above, carbon emissions from the power sector are already 15% lower than in 2005 – reflecting a sharp decline in coal-fired power generation, as well as a significant increase in natural gas generation and renewables and rising investment in energy efficiency.

Since 2005, many fossil fuel-fired power plants have also installed modern pollution controls in response to state and federal clean air standards adopted to protect public health from harmful particulates, ozone-forming pollution, and toxic air pollutants such as mercury and arsenic.

The robust system of reliability safeguards described above has responded deftly to these developments, ensuring a consistent and reliable supply of affordable power while helping reduce harmful air pollution. There is every reason to believe that the Clean Power Plan, with its extended implementation timeframe and numerous compliance flexibilities, will similarly achieve important reductions in air pollution without compromising electric reliability.

For more information please read our white paper: Protective Carbon Pollution Standards and Electric Reliability

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News| Read 2 Responses

Clean Power Plan Litigation: An End Run around the Clean Air Act and the Democratic Process

This Thursday, April 16, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument in three related cases — West Virginia v. EPA (No. 14-1146) and In re Murray Energy Corporation (No. 14-1112, 14-1151)involving challenges to EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which will establish the nation’s first limits on carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants.

EDF is a party to the cases, and will be in court on Thursday.

These cases have attracted media attention in large part because these are the first legal challenges to a high-profile national rulemaking that will establish critical public health protections for the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gases.

But these cases are also drawing notice because they involve highly unorthodox attempts to stop an ongoing rulemaking process. EPA is still considering more than four million public comments received between June and December 2014 on its proposed standards, and the Agency is not expected to issue a final rule until this summer.

From a legal perspective, the petitioners’ case is fatally flawed on both procedural and substantive grounds.

Turning first to the procedural issues:

The timing of these legal challenges blatantly disregards the most basic principles of federal administrative law.

Although the three petitions before the D.C. Circuit have different procedural postures, all of them seek to block or overturn EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards. But under federal administrative law, standards developed by agencies such as EPA must go through a transparent and participatory process in which proposed standards are published, the public has an opportunity to comment on those standards, and agencies then issue final standards that respond to those comments. Both the Clean Air Act and the Administrative Procedure Act clearly provide that legal challenges can only be filed after this process is complete, and the agency has taken final action.

This long-standing rule against premature legal challenges serves a number of compelling purposes:

  • It prevents parties from doing an “end run” around the public comment process.
  • It gives administrative agencies the opportunity to ensure that final rules are firmly grounded in law and fact.
  • It ensures that reviewing courts have before them the agency’s full and definitive decisions and analyses.
  • It protects courts and agencies from wasting valuable time litigating proposals that may change as a result of public comments.

Those purposes clearly apply here. EPA is months away from taking final action on the Clean Power Plan — and is still weighing millions of public comments filed on almost every aspect of the proposed rule, including the same legal issues raised by the D.C. Circuit petitioners (who have simultaneously filed voluminous comments with EPA making the very arguments they are making in court).

The petitioners attempt to short-circuit this careful, deliberative rulemaking process is radical and would – if successful – open the door to endless litigation over agency proposals. Petitioners have pointed to no case in which the D.C. Circuit or any other federal court has ever entertained such an anticipatory challenge to an administrative rulemaking. Indeed, in the last two years, the federal courts have twice dismissed similar lawsuits that were filed against EPA’s proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants — Las Brisas Energy Center LLC v. EPA, 12-1248 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 13, 2012) and Nebraska v. EPA, No. 4:14-CV-3006 (D. Neb. Oct. 6, 2014). On procedural grounds alone, the petitioners’ case should similarly be dismissed.

The petitioners’ substantive claim — that EPA is prohibited from regulating carbon dioxide from the power sector under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act — is equally unfounded.

Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act requires EPA to regulate harmful pollution from existing sources, where that pollution is not regulated under other provisions of the Clean Air Act relating to national ambient air quality standards (sections 108-110) and hazardous air pollutants (section 112). For more than forty years, section 111(d) has been understood to serve a vital gap-filling role in the Clean Air Act – ensuring the protection of human health and welfare from harmful air pollution that is not addressed under other key Clean Air Act programs.

Because carbon dioxide from the power sector is not regulated under section 108 or 112, EPA has logically proposed that it must be regulated under section 111(d). This conclusion not only follows from a long-standing interpretation of section 111(d), it also is consistent with the Supreme Court’s 2011 decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut – which stated that section 111(d) “speaks directly” to the problem of carbon pollution from existing power plants, and held that EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution under section 111(d) displaces federal common law.

Indeed, attorneys for some of the nation’s largest power companies specifically supported this interpretation at oral argument before the Supreme Court, and urged the “comprehensive” coverage of the Clean Air Act, including section 111(d)’s applicability to carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, as a reason why federal courts should not recognize a non-statutory remedy for power plant carbon pollution under the federal common law.

The petitioners nonetheless contend that EPA is categorically forbidden from regulating carbon dioxide from the power sector under section 111(d) because EPA has already issued standards for different pollutants (mercury, other toxic metals, and acid gases) from the power sector under a different section of the Clean Air Act.

As EPA explained in its brief in West Virginia, this theory amounts to a “pick your poison” approach to the Clean Air Act – arbitrarily limiting EPA to regulating either pollutants like mercury under section 112 or pollutants like carbon dioxide under section 111(d) for any given source, but not both.

Such a result would be completely out of step with the Clean Air Act, which consistently recognizes that different air pollutants pose different risks to the public, so that controlling one pollutant from a source does not eliminate the need to control other pollutants. The petitioners’ theory would radically alter the structure of the Clean Air Act, transforming what is now a seamless regulatory framework into one with potential gaping loopholes.

Neither the text nor the structure and history of the Clean Air Act support these claims. The petitioners’ theory rests entirely on a strained interpretation of a technical amendment to section 111(d) that the House of Representatives passed as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. But as EPA and other parties describe in more detail in their briefs to the DC Circuit, the text of the House amendment has multiple interpretations – and is most reasonably read to support the traditional “gap-filling” role of section 111(d) and EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide from the power sector.

Moreover, the petitioners call on the court to disregard a contemporaneous Senate amendment to section 111(d) that — as even they admit — unambiguously preserves EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution.

The Senate amendment, like its House counterpart, was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. It is the law of the land and cannot simply be read out of the Clean Air Act.

The petitioners’ theory also represents bad statutory interpretation because it would dramatically change the structure of the Clean Air Act in a way that Congress could never have intended – making it difficult or even impossible for EPA to protect the public from harmful pollutants from the dozens of industrial source categories whose emissions of hazardous air pollutants are regulated under section 112. In all of the extensive debate, committee reports, and other legislative history that led up to the enactment of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, there is not a shred of evidence that Congress intended to create loopholes in section 111(d) as the petitioners claim.

Faced with this reality, the petitioners insist – without any supporting evidence — that Congress wanted to avoid “double regulation” of source categories under sections 111(d) and 112. But it is not “double regulation” for EPA to regulate different health-harming pollutants from the same source category under different provisions of the Clean Air Act. In fact, the Clean Air Act has always permitted and even required such regulation. Many facilities in the power sector, for example, are currently regulated under multiple Clean Air Act programs addressing different air pollution problems that are associated with a variety of adverse health effects.

Further, the 1990 amendments include a provision stating that standards under section 112 must not be “interpreted, construed or applied to diminish or replace” more stringent requirements under section 111. This is a strong indication that Congress intended for section 112 to work seamlessly with, not displace, section 111(d).

EPA’s proposed interpretation of section 111(d) also has a long and bipartisan history – further supporting the reasonableness of the agency’s view and underscoring the bizarre and opportunistic nature of the petitioners’ theories.

As documented in a compelling brief filed by NYU’s Institute for Policy Integrity, EPA has adopted the view that section 111(d) applies to any pollutant not regulated under section 112 or section 108 in multiple rulemakings since 1990 — not just in the Obama Administration, but also the George W. Bush Administration, the Clinton Administration, and the Administration of George H.W. Bush, who actually signed the 1990 amendments.

Ultimately, the petitioner’s flimsy substantive claims only underscore the wisdom of the procedural bar against premature challenges to agency proposed rules.

EPA undoubtedly possesses the authority to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. That's good news for the families and communities that are afflicted by mercury and carbon pollution from fossil fuel power plants — the nation's single largest source of both health-harming contaminants.

Congress did not intend for our children to have to "pick their poisons," but instead created a seamless framework – which Republican and Democratic administrations alike have long carried out — to safeguard our health and our children's health from all harmful air pollution.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News, Policy| Comments are closed
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    Tomás CarbonellTomás Carbonell
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    Vice President for International Climate

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