Author Archives: Tomas Carbonell

A Growing Number of Experts Affirm the Strong Legal Basis for the Clean Power Plan

rp_Gavel_iStock000003633182Medium1-300x199-300x199.jpgSince it was enacted in 1970, the Clean Air Act has protected public health and dramatically reduced air pollution at the same time as the economy has grown by leaps and bounds.

Many of the major Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions that have been most vital to this progress were subject to hard-fought — and largely unsuccessful — legal challenges.

The Clean Power Plan, which establishes the nation’s first limits on carbon pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants, is no exception. Dozens of lawsuits challenging the Clean Power Plan have been filed since the rule was published in the Federal Register – and a large coalition of states and municipalities, public health and environmental organizations, leading power companies, and clean energy providers have moved to defend the Clean Power Plan against these challenges.

Fortunately, EPA has a long history of successfully defending its rules against legal attacks – and the Clean Power Plan is on similarly strong legal footing.

Leading law enforcement officials, former EPA officials from Administrations of both parties – including the Administrator and the General Counsel in President George H.W. Bush’s Administration — and prominent legal scholars have concluded that the Clean Power Plan is firmly within EPA’s long-standing authority under the Clean Air Act.

Statements on the Final Clean Power Plan:

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan is a critical step forward in responding to the threat of climate change. The rule is firmly grounded in science and the law. The rule incorporates successful strategies New York and other states have used to cut climate change pollution from power plants while maintaining electricity reliability, holding the line on utility bills, and growing our economies. We are committed to aggressively defending the Clean Power Plan to ensure progress is made in confronting climate change. — Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut , Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode             Island, Vermont, Washington, Massachusetts, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; attorneys for the cities of Boulder, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and South Miami; and the attorney for Broward County, Florida, A.G. Schneiderman Leads Coalition of 25 States, Cities and Counties in Defense of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, November 4, 2015

[The Clean Power Plan] is exactly what cooperative federalism looks like…It is the EPA recognizing the states’ leadership, giving states the opportunity to employ and use strategies that … are working. — Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts, Attorneys General Explain Why 18 States are Defending EPA's Clean Power Plan, SNL, November 4, 2015

The country needs to reduce CO2 from existing power plants which generate 40% of America's CO2. The rule is needed, and the courts we hope will recognize that it is on the right side of history. — William K. Reilly, former EPA Administrator under President George H.W. Bush, and William D. Ruckelshaus, former EPA administrator under Presidents Nixon and Reagan, Former EPA Administrators Reilly and Ruckelshaus Issues Statement Regarding the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, October 23, 2015

North Carolina's Clean Smokestacks Act, our renewable energy standard and other utilities, environmentalists, businesses and consumer advocates. Our state is in a great position to bring these and other stakeholders together once again to work with the EPA to devise our own plan to protect North Carolina's air and promote economic growth… I encourage the [North Carolina General Assembly] to avoid the path of litigation and instead work on a cooperative effort we can all be proud of. — Roy Cooper, Attorney General of North Carolina, Letter to leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly, Aug. 7, 2015

Opponents of the Clean Power Plan have already sued twice before to strike down this rule, only to have their challenges thrown out as premature. This time, judges will hear their arguments, but the arguments hold little legal merit. — Prof. Richard Revesz, New York University School of Law, and Denise Grab, Senior Attorney at the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, Noise Trumps Logic in Clean Power Plan Lawsuits, The Hill, October 27, 2015

[T]he government is on solid legal footing to defend the Clean Power Plan. — Profs. Jody Freeman and Richard J. Lazarus, Harvard Law SchoolThe Biggest Risk to Obama's Climate Plan May Be Politics, Not the CourtsThe Guardian, August 5, 2015

In many of the air pollution programs, EPA is directed to consider some combination of the cost of compliance and the practicability of the means of compliance when setting standards…The [New Source Performance Standards and Clean Power Plan] fit well within these statutory parameters: they bring about net economic benefits, they promote cleaner air, and they can be achieved within the existing landscape of how electricity is generated and transmitted. — Prof. Emily Hammond, George Washington University Law School, Testimony before the Energy and Commerce Committee, U.S. House of Representatives, October 22, 2015

[T]he EPA stands an excellent chance of prevailing in this epic showdown. And for the good of the planet and the welfare of future generations, one can only hope it will. — Prof. Patrick Parenteau, Vermont Law School, The Clean Power Plan Will Survive: Part 2, Law360, September 29, 2015

Many experts have also concluded that requests for courts to block (or “stay”) the Clean Power Plan during the period of litigation are likely to fail.

Statements Refuting the Need for a Stay of the Clean Power Plan:

I think the deadlines [in the Clean Power Plan] are sufficiently far in the future that there's no need for a stay here, the court is certainly going to be able to decide this case before the deadlines. — Robert Percival, Robert F. Stanton Professor of Law and Director, Environmental Law Program, University of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law, EPA, Clean Power Plan Foes Gird For Court Fight, Law360, August 3, 2015

[T]he EPA’s rule includes generous compliance deadlines . . . Challengers will be hard-pressed to persuade anyone they merit a stay. — Profs. Jody Freeman and Richard J. Lazarus, Harvard Law SchoolThe Biggest Risk to Obama's Climate Plan May Be Politics, Not the CourtsThe Guardian, August 5, 2015

Experts have remarked on the Clean Power Plan’s bedrock legal authority throughout its creation – from when it was first proposed.

Statements on the Proposed Clean Power Plan:

The EPA has authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act, an authority affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, to set these public health protections against carbon pollution. — Carol M. Browner, former EPA Administrator under President Bill Clinton, and Alex LaskeyWith New Power Plant Rules, Energy Efficiency Checks All the BoxesThe Hill, June 2, 2014

Critics of the [Clean Power Plan] say that President Obama is making an end run around Congress, stretching the law to achieve by executive action what he could not accomplish through the legislative branch. This is flat wrong. More than four decades ago, Congress expressed its clear desire to regulate pollution from power plants, in the form of the Clean Air Act. I know, because I worked on the legislation, including the key part of the act—Section 111—that the Obama administration is using to justify its move. — Leon Billings, former Chief of Staff to Sen. Edmund Muskie and staff director of the Senate Environment Subcommittee during the drafting of the Clean Air ActThe Obscure 1970 Compromise That Made Obama’s Climate Rules PossiblePolitico, June 2, 2014

Limiting Greenhouse Gas emissions from existing power plants is the next logical step after the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld EPA’s authority and obligation to address this issue. A system-wide approach provides needed flexibility and reduces costs, as well as encouraging investment in lower-emitting generation. EPA has wisely left the states a lot of discretion rather than mandating specific measures as some had wanted. — E. Donald Elliott, EPA General Counsel under President George H.W. BushObama’s Section 111d Plan Has Support From George H.W. Bush’s EPA General Counsel, Utility ExecutivesLegal Planet, June 1, 2014

[I]t is important to be clear here: the President is required to issue the rules, required by law and by the interpretation of the law by the highest Court in the land. — Prof. Ann Carlson, UCLA School of Law, Obama Has To Issue Climate Change Rules — The Law Says So, Talking Points Memo, May 30, 2014

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Policy| Comments are closed

A Look at the Strong Legal Foundation of the Clean Power Plan

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon publish the Clean Power Plan in the Federal Register. The Clean Power Plan is a suite of historic Clean Air Act standards that will establish the first nationwide limits on carbon pollution from America’s fossil fuel-fired power plants.

Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for almost 40 percent of the country’s carbon pollution. There is enormous potential for the power sector to reduce pollution by shifting to clean sources of energy – with immense benefits for the health of our families and communities, for creating jobs and strengthening the American economy, and for safeguarding our planet for our children. EPA projects that the Clean Power Plan will have total climate and public health benefits of up to $54 billion per year by 2030 – benefits that include saving up to 3,500 lives and avoiding 90,000 childhood asthma attacks each year.

These standards not only have huge benefits, they are eminently achievable. On a national basis, the power sector has already reduced carbon pollution emissions by 15 percent since 2005, a faster rate of reduction than the Clean Power Plan requires. Many states around the country are well on their way towards meeting the emission limits set forth in the Clean Power Plan, in large part due to policies and investment decisions that are already helping drive lower emissions. A recent analysis by EDF, for example, found that the state of Texas will achieve 88 percent of its Clean Power Plan target based solely on “business as usual” trends in the Texas power sector.

Like many recent Clean Air Act standards, the Clean Power Plan is likely to face a number of legal challenges from polluters and their allies who oppose reasonable limits on carbon pollution. A handful of premature legal challenges were filed before EPA even signed the final version the rule – challenges that were rejected by a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. A separate challenge brought by the State of Oklahoma was dismissed by an Oklahoma federal district court judge, and a related motion by Oklahoma to block the Clean Power Plan was denied by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. And after EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan in August, several states and a major coal producer unsuccessfully sued to block the implementation of the rule.

Although more legal challenges will surely come upon the rule’s publication, the Clean Power Plan rests on a solid legal foundation and is wholly consistent with past Clean Air Act rules addressing the power sector – as many of the nation’s leading legal experts have noted since the Clean Power Plan was first proposed, including the author of section 111(d), numerous state Attorneys General, and the EPA General Counsel in the Bush administration.

EPA Has Clear Authority to Regulate Carbon Pollution from the Power Sector

EPA’s authority – and responsibility – to regulate carbon pollution from the power sector under the Clean Air Act is well-established. The Supreme Court has affirmed EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act three times since 2007. In American Electric Power v. Connecticut (2011), the Supreme Court specifically held that section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act – the provision that underlies the Clean Power Plan – “speaks directly” to the regulation of carbon pollution from existing power plants.

This conclusion was, in fact, stated before the Supreme Court by attorneys for some of the nation’s largest power companies – who declared unequivocally at oral argument that EPA has authority to regulate carbon pollution from the power sector under section 111(d):

“We believe that the EPA can consider, as it's undertaking to do, regulating existing nonmodified sources under section 111 of the Clean Air Act, and that's the process that's engaged in now… Obviously, at the close of that process there could be APA challenges on a variety of grounds, but we do believe that they have the authority to consider standards under section 111.” – (Counsel for petitioners in AEP v. Connecticut)

In the lawsuits that were recently rejected by the D.C. Circuit court, coal companies and some states alleged that EPA is prohibited from regulating carbon pollution from the power sector – on the grounds that EPA is regulating mercury and other toxic pollutants from the power sector under a different section of the Clean Air Act. This “pick your poison” theory of the Clean Air Act not only ignores the Supreme Court’s ruling in AEP v. Connecticut, it rests on a selective and distorted reading of the law that ignores the Clean Air Act’s text, structure, and history.

The Clean Power Plan Rests on a Solid Legal and Technical Foundation

The Clean Power Plan is fully consistent with the “cooperative federalism” approach that EPA has applied under section 111(d) for nearly forty years, under which EPA issues minimum environmental standards that reflect the “best system of emission reduction” for existing sources, while giving states the opportunity to decide how best to meet those requirements through state plans.

In the Clean Power Plan, EPA has issued nationwide standards for carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel power plants – standards that are firmly grounded in proven, cost-effective technologies that power companies and states have already been successfully using to reduce carbon pollution, such as improving the efficiency of existing power plants and shifting generation to low or zero-emitting facilities. At the same time, the Clean Power Plan provides the states with tremendous flexibility in deciding how to achieve these targets – including the ability to use streamlined, highly cost-effective regulatory approaches similar to those used by EPA and the states under other successful Clean Air Act programs.

Opponents of the Clean Power Plan have made a host of hyperbolic claims about this common-sense approach, arguing that it amounts to a federal “takeover” of state energy policy and that it departs from the intent of the Clean Air Act. These claims are false.

Under EPA’s flexible approach, states can achieve the carbon pollution targets through streamlined, cost-effective air pollution regulations, such as emissions trading programs, that apply only to fossil fuel-fired power plants and that are compatible with a range of state energy policies. Ten states are already using such approaches to limit carbon pollution from power plants, and more than two dozen states are using such approaches to address sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from existing power plants under EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule – which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2014 against vigorous legal challenges.

EPA’s approach comports with the language of section 111(d), reflects approaches that states and power companies are already using to reduce carbon pollution, and is wholly consistent with other Clean Air Act programs for the power sector.

As required by the Clean Air Act, EPA also exhaustively analyzed the Clean Power Plan to ensure that it is based on the best available technical information and will not compromise the affordable, reliable supply of electricity. EPA’s review of the millions of comments it received on every aspect of the proposed version of the Clean Power Plan has only strengthened the technical foundations of the final rule.

Legal Experts Confirm the Strong Legal Basis for the Clean Power Plan

Many of the nation’s leading law enforcement officials, former EPA officials, and prominent legal scholars have concluded that the Clean Power Plan is firmly within EPA’s long-standing authority under the Clean Air Act.

A few illustrative statements include:

  • “The Text, Structure, and History of the Clean Air Act Confirm EPA’s Authority to Regulate Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Power Plants Under Section 111(d).” — Attorneys General of the States of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, in brief filed in Murray Energy Corp. v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 14-1112 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 23, 2014)
  • “The new rules set reasonable limits on emissions of climate change pollution from new and existing power plants and are firmly grounded in law.” — George Jepsen, Attorney General of Connecticut, Gov. Malloy, Attorney General Jepsen, Commissioner Klee Statements on EPA Rule on Pollution from Power Plants
  • “The EPA has authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act, an authority affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, to set these public health protections against carbon pollution.” — Carol M. Browner, former EPA Administrator, and Alex Laskey, President & Founder, Opower, With New Power Plant Rules, Energy Efficiency Checks All the Boxes
  • “Limiting Greenhouse Gas emissions from existing power plants is the next logical step after the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld EPA’s authority and obligation to address this issue. A system-wide approach provides needed flexibility and reduces costs, as well as encouraging investment in lower-emitting generation. EPA has wisely left the states a lot of discretion rather than mandating specific measures as some had wanted.” — E. Donald Elliott, EPA General Counsel under President George H.W. Bush, Obama’s Section 111d Plan Has Support From George H.W. Bush’s EPA General Counsel, Utility Executives
  •  “There is just case law building on case law that says, [the Clean Power Plan] is perfectly constitutional.” — Jody Freeman, Archibald Cox Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, Harvard Law's Lazarus and Freeman discuss federal court Power Plan hearing, Tribe arguments
  • “Clean Air Act regulations of existing power plants implemented by presidents of both parties over the past quarter of a century have achieved vitally important protections for public health and the environment through regulatory tools carefully designed to minimize costs. By following in the footsteps of earlier rules, the Clean Power Plan could be similarly transformative. The claim that it is unprecedented and unconstitutional is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law.” — Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus and Lawrence King Professor of Law, NYU School of Law, Obama’s professor on Clean Power Plan – Wrong on the facts and law
  •  “[T]he EPA stands an excellent chance of prevailing in this epic showdown. And for the good of the planet and the welfare of future generations, one can only hope it will.” — Patrick Parenteau, Professor, Vermont Law School, The Clean Power Plan Will Survive: Part 2
  •  “[I]t is important to be clear here: the President is required to issue the rules, required by law and by the interpretation of the law by the highest Court in the land.” — Ann Carlson, Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law, UCLA School of Law, Obama Has to Issue Climate Change Rules — The Law Says So

Many experts have also concluded that requests for courts to block (or “stay”) the Clean Power Plan during the period of litigation are likely to fail:

  • “I think the deadlines [in the Clean Power Plan] are sufficiently far in the future that there's no need for a stay here, the court is certainly going to be able to decide this case before the deadlines.” — Robert Percival, Robert F. Stanton Professor of Law and Director, Environmental Law Program, University of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law, EPA, Clean Power Plan Foes Gird For Court Fight
  • “[T]he EPA’s rule includes generous compliance deadlines . . . Challengers will be hard-pressed to persuade anyone they merit a stay.” Jody Freeman, Archibald Cox Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and Richard Lazarus, Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law, Harvard University, The Biggest Risk to Obama's Climate Plan May Be Politics, Not the Courts

EPA Has an Extensive Record of Success in Defending Clean Air Act Rules

Almost all of the major Clean Air Act rules that have so successfully protected human health and the environment in recent years have undergone intense legal challenges – and EPA has a great track record in defending these rules in the courts.

Consider these recent examples:

  • EPA v. EME Homer City Generation (U.S. Supreme Court, 2014) — In a major victory for EPA, the Supreme Court reversed a D.C. Circuit decision invalidating the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. In early 2015, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule took effect in states across the Eastern United States – protecting millions of Americans from power sector emissions that contribute to harmful particulate matter and smog pollution.
  • Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (U.S. Supreme Court, 2014) — The Supreme Court upheld EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act requiring that new and modified industrial facilities obtain permits limiting their emissions of greenhouse gases to reflect “best available control technology.” The Court did rule against EPA on the question of whether the “best available control technology” requirement applies to smaller facilities. However, EPA itself had concluded those requirements would pose serious practical problems and yield relatively small pollution control benefits.
  • Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA (D.C. Circuit, 2012) — The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld EPA’s science-based finding that climate pollution endangers public health and welfare, and EPA’s first generation of greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger vehicles. The Supreme Court declined to review either of these critical holdings, laying the groundwork for subsequent rules reducing greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles and medium and heavy duty trucks.
  • Delta Construction Co. v. EPA (D.C. Circuit, 2015) — The D.C. Circuit dismissed, on procedural grounds, multiple legal challenges to EPA’s first greenhouse gas standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles.
  • National Association of Manufacturers v. EPA (D.C. Circuit, 2014) — EPA fended off challenges to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter (better known as soot).

The health and environmental benefits of the Clean Power Plan will be invaluable. As EPA prepares for the inevitable legal attacks, it has a strong legal foundation and a track record of litigation success.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Policy| Comments are closed

Legal Experts Affirm the Strong Legal Basis for the Clean Power Plan

rp_Gavel_iStock000003633182Medium1-300x199.jpgLike other major Clean Air Act standards protecting our climate and public health, the Clean Power Plan will likely be subject to numerous legal attacks.

EPA has a long history of successfully defending its rules against such attacks – and the Clean Power Plan is on similarly strong legal footing.

Leading law enforcement officials, former EPA officials, and prominent legal scholars have concluded that the Clean Power Plan is firmly within EPA’s long-standing authority under the Clean Air Act:

Statements on the Final Clean Power Plan

We are in the process of reviewing the rules but fully anticipate standing with EPA to defend these necessary emission standards if they are challenged in court…The rules are also firmly grounded in the law. The Clean Air Act requires EPA to regulate emissions of climate change pollution from new and existing power plants. Furthermore, the rules set reasonable limits on these sources as a result of a multi-year stakeholder process that drew heavily on strategies states have used to successfully cut power plant emissions while growing our economies. — Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, and the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, Letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, August 3, 2015

The new rules set reasonable limits on emissions of climate change pollution from new and existing power plants and are firmly grounded in law. My office stands ready to support and assist the EPA throughout the implementation of the plan, including in any legal challenges that may be filed in the courts. — George Jepsen, Attorney General of Connecticut, August 3, 2015

North Carolina's Clean Smokestacks Act, our renewable energy standard and other forward-thinking efforts were forged by collaboration among interested parties such as utilities, environmentalists, businesses and consumer advocates. Our state is in a great position to bring these and other stakeholders together once again to work with the EPA to devise our own plan to protect North Carolina's air and promote economic growth… I encourage the [North Carolina General Assembly] to avoid the path of litigation and instead work on a cooperative effort we can all be proud of. – Roy Cooper, Attorney General of North Carolina,letter to leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly, Aug. 7, 2015

[T]he government is on solid legal footing to defend the Clean Power Plan. — Profs. Jody Freeman and Richard J. Lazarus, Harvard Law School, The Biggest Risk to Obama's Climate Plan May Be Politics, Not the Courts, The Guardian, August 5, 2015

[T]here is no question that in the final plan, the government has shored up its legal vulnerabilities and put itself in a far better position to defend its ambitious rule. — Prof. Jody Freeman, Harvard Law School,How Obama Plans to Beat His Climate Critics, Politico, August 3, 2015

Every president since [the late 1980s], whether a Democrat or Republican, has taken meaningful steps to slash pollution from existing plants, in most cases relying not on new legislation but on previously neglected provisions of the Clean Air Act itself… The Clean Power Plan follows in this bipartisan tradition… [T]he rule is the latest chapter in a decades-long effort to clean up our oldest, dirtiest power plants and at last fulfill the pledge that Congress made to the American people back in 1970: that the air we all breathe will be safe. — Prof. Richard Revesz and Jack Lienke, New York University School of Law, Obama Takes a Crucial Step on Climate Change, The New York Times, August 3, 2015

Statements on the Proposed Clean Power Plan

The EPA has authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act, an authority affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, to set these public health protections against carbon pollution. — Carol M. Browner, former EPA Administrator under President Bill Clinton, and Alex Laskey, With New Power Plant Rules, Energy Efficiency Checks All the Boxes, The Hill, June 2, 2014

Critics of the [Clean Power Plan] say that President Obama is making an end run around Congress, stretching the law to achieve by executive action what he could not accomplish through the legislative branch. This is flat wrong. More than four decades ago, Congress expressed its clear desire to regulate pollution from power plants, in the form of the Clean Air Act. I know, because I worked on the legislation, including the key part of the act—Section 111—that the Obama administration is using to justify its move. — Leon Billings, former Chief of Staff to Sen. Edmund Muskie and staff director of the Senate Environment Subcommittee during the drafting of the Clean Air Act, The Obscure 1970 Compromise That Made Obama’s Climate Rules Possible, Politico, June 2, 2014

Limiting Greenhouse Gas emissions from existing power plants is the next logical step after the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld EPA’s authority and obligation to address this issue. A system-wide approach provides needed flexibility and reduces costs, as well as encouraging investment in lower-emitting generation. EPA has wisely left the states a lot of discretion rather than mandating specific measures as some had wanted. — E. Donald Elliott, EPA General Counsel under President George H.W. Bush, Obama’s Section 111d Plan Has Support From George H.W. Bush’s EPA General Counsel, Utility Executives, Legal Planet, June 1, 2014

[I]t is important to be clear here: the President is required to issue the rules, required by law and by the interpretation of the law by the highest Court in the land. — Prof. Ann Carlson, UCLA School of Law, Obama Has To Issue Climate Change Rules — The Law Says So,Talking Points Memo, May 30, 2014

Posted in Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, News| Comments are closed

Why “Just Say No” is Just Plain Wrong: the Sound Legal Basis for the Clean Power Plan

rp_power_plant_6.jpg

Kentucky power plant. Photo by Cindy Cornett Seigle/Flickr

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will soon finalize the Clean Power Plan — a suite of historic Clean Air Act standards that will establish the first nationwide limits on carbon pollution from America’s fossil fuel-fired power plants. Rigorous carbon pollution standards for the nation’s power sector will yield immense benefits for the health of our families and communities, for the American economy, and for a safer climate for our children.

Yet in the months leading up to the release of the Clean Power Plan clean air standards, coal companies and other entities that oppose reasonable limits on carbon pollution have lobbed a series of flawed and failed lawsuits directed at stopping EPA from finishing its work. Now, some power companies and their allies have concocted new – and equally misguided – attacks against the Clean Power Plan.

They’ve been suggesting that the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards case, which held that EPA must take costs into account when making a threshold decision whether to proceed with emissions limits on toxic pollution was a blow against the Clean Power Plan. They’ve also been arguing that states should “Just Say No” to developing plans for implementing the Clean Power Plan’s vital protections to limit carbon pollution for climate and public health.

As we explain below, these critics are flat wrong – on the meaning of the Supreme Court’s decision, on the decision’s implications for the Clean Power Plan, and on the validity of “just saying no.”

Climate and Public Health Benefits of the Clean Power Plan

Before turning to the Supreme Court’s decision, let’s make one thing clear — the “Just Say No” camp is urging states to condemn our families and communities to a future of unlimited carbon pollution and compromised public health. They’re also urging us to forego a tremendous economic opportunity associated with the race to deploy more clean energy solutions, drive down pollution, and increase jobs.

The Clean Power Plan is expected to bring historic health and environmental benefits, both in the near term and for future generations. As proposed, the Clean Power Plan would significantly reduce carbon pollution from the nation’s largest source – existing fossil fuel power plants that account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Reductions of other harmful pollutants will be just as profound. Based on the proposed rule, EPA estimates that by 2030, when the Clean Power Plan is fully in effect, power sector emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particular matter will be reduced by almost 30 percent compared to a business-as-usual scenario. Significant reductions would begin to take place many years earlier.

That means thousands of avoided deaths, heart attacks, and childhood asthma attacks each year — all by the time a child born today starts kindergarten. EPA estimates that the climate and public health benefits of the proposed Clean Power Plan would have an economic value of up to $93 billion per year by 2030 – or as much as eleven dollars for every dollar spent on compliance.

The Supreme Court Mercury Decision and the Clean Power Plan

Yet some opponents of the Clean Power Plan, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and large polluters, are urging states to hold off on implementing the Clean Power Plan. They claim — falsely — that the Supreme Court invalidated the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards when it decided Michigan v. EPA, so it was a waste of money for power plants to have complied with the Mercury standards. They say the same thing might happen with the Clean Power Plan.

That’s just plain wrong.

The Supreme Court did not invalidate the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The Court only held that EPA should have taken into account the costs of the standards when the Agency made its initial legal determination that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and other air toxics from power plants. As examined below, EPA considered costs in establishing the resulting emissions standards. Further, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards remain in effect after the Court’s decision, and power plants are still required to comply. (The case now goes back to a lower court for further consideration).

In the coming weeks and months, EPA will respond to Michigan v. EPA. There is every reason to believe EPA can quickly amend its “appropriate and necessary” finding to address the Supreme Court’s decision, without affecting the substance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. This is because EPA has already conducted an extensive review of both the costs and benefits of the standards, and that review contains overwhelming evidence that the benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are vastly disproportionate to the costs.

Controlling air toxics for power plants, for example, will have the important benefit of reducing human exposure to harmful particulate matter – helping prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks each year. These “co-benefits” have an estimated value of up to $90 billion per year, or up to nine dollars for every dollar projected to be spent on compliance. That figure does not even take into account the critical benefits associated with reduced exposure to the neurotoxic and carcinogenic pollutants regulated under the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, all of which are emitted by the power sector in huge quantities, and all of which will be dramatically reduced as a result of the standards. There is no question that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are “appropriate and necessary” even when costs are considered.

Moreover, the courts will almost certainly keep the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in place during the interim period while EPA responds to the Supreme Court’s decision. This is a common course of action when the courts find that EPA needs to go back and address legal or technical issues in a Clean Air Act regulation – especially in the situation we face with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, where the issues are straightforward to resolve and there are significant public health protections at stake.

The Clean Power Plan — Different Rule, Different Issues

Polluters and their allies are even more off-base when it comes to the impacts of the latest Supreme Court decision on the Clean Power Plan.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards case was about a narrow interpretive issue in section 112 of the Clean Air Act — whether EPA had to consider costs in its “appropriate and necessary” finding. Unlike the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the Clean Power Plan is authorized by section 111 of the Clean Air Act. Section 111 contains no reference to an “appropriate and necessary” finding. So the Supreme Court’s interpretation of section 112 doesn’t have any direct relevance to section 111.

Under section 111, EPA does have to make a threshold finding that a source category “contributes significantly to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” EPA already made this finding when it first issued section 111 standards for power plants back in the 1970’s. In 2009, EPA made a further finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases “endanger public health and welfare” – a finding that the courts subsequently upheld against numerous industry challenges.

It’s also clear that EPA has considered costs extensively throughout the rulemaking process for the Clean Power Plan, as section 111 requires. As noted above, EPA found that the total benefits of the proposed Clean Power Plan exceed compliance costs by a wide margin. This remains true even when considering the climate and public health benefits separately — EPA’s central estimate of the climate benefits alone is $31 billion per year by 2030, or over three –and-a-half-times the cost of compliance. The public health benefits in that same year are valued at an additional $27 to 62 billion.

Cost considerations are woven into the structure of the proposed Clean Power Plan, which maximizes flexibility to enable compliance using the most cost-effective methods available. Indeed, EPA’s approach is vastly less expensive than the “end of the pipe” solutions some of the Clean Power Plan’s opponents claim are the better approach under the law.

Legal Experts Confirm the Strong Legal Basis for the Clean Power Plan

The cynical premise of the “Just Say No” campaign also ignores the chorus of influential legal experts who have affirmed the strong legal basis for the Clean Power Plan. Leading law enforcement officials, former EPA officials, and prominent legal scholars have concluded that the Clean Power Plan is firmly within EPA’s long-standing authority under the Clean Air Act.

A few illustrative statements include:

The Text, Structure, and History of the Clean Air Act Confirm EPA’s Authority to Regulate Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Power Plants Under Section 111(d). —Attorneys General of the States of New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, in brief filed in Murray Energy Corp. v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 14-1112 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 23, 2014)

The EPA has authority under the 1990 Clean Air Act, an authority affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, to set these public health protections against carbon pollution. — Carol M. Browner (EPA Administrator under the Clinton Administration) & Alex Laskey, With New Power Plant Rules, Energy Efficiency Checks All the Boxes

Critics of the [Clean Power Plan] say that President Obama is making an end run around Congress, stretching the law to achieve by executive action what he could not accomplish through the legislative branch. This is flat wrong. More than four decades ago, Congress expressed its clear desire to regulate pollution from power plants, in the form of the Clean Air Act. I know, because I worked on the legislation, including the key part of the act—Section 111—that the Obama administration is using to justify its move. — Leon Billings, The Obscure 1970 Compromise That Made Obama’s Climate Rules Possible

Limiting Greenhouse Gas emissions from existing power plants is the next logical step after the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld EPA’s authority and obligation to address this issue. A system-wide approach provides needed flexibility and reduces costs, as well as encouraging investment in lower-emitting generation. EPA has wisely left the states a lot of discretion rather than mandating specific measures as some had wanted. – E. Donald Elliott, EPA General Counsel under President George H.W. Bush, Obama’s Section 111d Plan Has Support From George H.W. Bush’s EPA General Counsel, Utility Executives

EPA’s approach is neither unprecedented nor unlimited. Since 1970, the [Clean Air Act] has called on states to make policy choices and use their governmental powers in the manner that this rule might require. Indeed, many of the policy choices needed to comply with EPA’s proposal would stem from the special characteristics of the electricity market and not from any new EPA initiative. — William F. Pedersen, Senior Counsel, Perkins Coie, Does EPA’s §111(d) Proposal Rely on an Unprecedented and Legally Forbidden Approach to Emission Reduction?, Environmental Law Reporter (April 2015)

There is just case law building on case law that says, [the Clean Power Plan] is perfectly constitutional. — Prof. Jody Freeman, Harvard Law School, Harvard Law's Lazarus and Freeman discuss federal court Power Plan hearing, Tribe arguments,E&ENews PM (April 20, 2015)

Clean Air Act regulations of existing power plants implemented by presidents of both parties over the past quarter of a century have achieved vitally important protections for public health and the environment through regulatory tools carefully designed to minimize costs. By following in the footsteps of earlier rules, the Clean Power Plan could be similarly transformative. The claim that it is unprecedented and unconstitutional is wrong on the facts and wrong on the law. – Ricky Revesz, Dean Emeritus and Lawrence King Professor of Law, NYU School of Law, Obama’s professor on Clean Power Plan – Wrong on the facts and law

EPA’s Strong Record of Success in Defending Clean Air Act Rules

Proponents of the “Just Say No” campaign also hope that the public will overlook EPA’s strong track record of success in defending Clean Air Act rules in the nation’s federal courts.  Indeed, almost all of the major Clean Air Act rules that have so successfully protected human health and the environment in recent years have undergone intense legal challenges – and most of these challenges have failed.

Consider these recent examples:

  • EPA v. EME Homer City Generation (U.S. Supreme Court, 2014) — In a major victory for EPA, the Supreme Court reversed a D.C. Circuit decision invalidating the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.  
  • Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (U.S. Supreme Court, 2014) — The Supreme Court upheld EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act requiring that new and modified industrial facilities obtain permits limiting their emissions of greenhouse gases to reflect “best available control technology.” The Court did rule against EPA on the question of whether the “best available control technology” requirement applies to smaller facilities. However, EPA itself had concluded those requirements would pose serious practical problems and yield relatively small pollution control benefits.
  • Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. EPA (D.C. Circuit, 2012) — The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld EPA’s science-based finding that climate pollution endangers public health and welfare, and EPA’s first generation of greenhouse gas emission standards for passenger vehicles. The Supreme Court declined to review either of these critical holdings, laying the groundwork for subsequent rules reducing greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles and medium and heavy duty trucks.
  • Delta Construction Co. v. EPA (D.C. Circuit, 2015) – The D.C. Circuit dismissed, on procedural grounds, multiple legal challenges to EPA’s first greenhouse gas standards for medium and heavy duty vehicles.
  • National Association of Manufacturers v. EPA (U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, 2014) — EPA fended off challenges to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for particulate matter (better known as soot).

The health and environmental benefits of the Clean Power Plan will be invaluable. As EPA prepares for the inevitable legal attacks, it has a strong legal foundation and a track record of litigation success. Nothing about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards decision changed that.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Climate Change Legislation, Health, News, Policy| Read 1 Response

The Mercury Standards, Post-Supreme Court – Still in Effect, Still Protecting Americans

rp_640px-Oblique_facade_2_US_Supreme_Court.jpg

Supreme Court of the United States

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first proposed the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards back in 2011, at a news conference at Children’s Hospital with cheering children and families surrounding the speakers.

They were cheering because the Mercury Standards were the single most important clean air measure of our generation – designed to protect Americans from some of the worst, most dangerous types of air pollution.

They still are.

This week’s disappointing Supreme Court decision, remanding the standards back to the D.C. Circuit Court for further analysis, has distracted from that fact.

But the fact remains – the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a suite of life-saving protections against some of the most health-harming substances emitted by coal and oil-fired power plants, including mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals, and acid gases.

Here’s What Happened

Coal- and oil-fired power plants are by far the largest emitters of these pollutants, which are dangerous to human health even in small doses. Mercury causes brain damage in children, metal toxics like chromium and nickel cause cancer, and acid gases cause respiratory problems.

This week, the Supreme Court held that EPA should have considered the costs of regulation when it made a threshold determination under section 112 of the Clean Air Act that it is “appropriate and necessary” to move forward with the first-ever national limits for these noxious emissions. It is now up to EPA to determine the best way to respond to the decision.

(The case was Michigan v. EPA. EDF was a party to the case. You can read the decision and the sharp dissent here.)

What does the Supreme Court ruling mean for the Mercury Air Toxics Standards?

Here are three important things you should know.

First — there is every reason to believe EPA can quickly amend its “appropriate and necessary” finding to address the Supreme Court’s decision, without affecting the substance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards themselves.

Importantly, the Court left it up to EPA to determine how to evaluate costs and how to weigh those costs against the benefits of regulation. As the Court’s opinion acknowledged, EPA has already conducted an extensive review of both the costs and benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards as part of the regulatory analyses most agencies carry out under Executive Order 12866. That analysis contains overwhelming evidence showing that the benefits of MATS far outweigh its costs.

According to EPA, the monetized benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics are expected to be up to $90 billion per year.

That amount reflects the enormous health benefits Americans will get from the standards. EPA estimates that they will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, up to 4,700 heart attacks, and up to 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

There are substantial and additional non-monetized benefits associated with reduced exposure to mercury and other harmful pollutants regulated by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Moreover, in spite of the power industry’s claims, reducing these emissions has proven much less expensive than initially projected. Major power companies such as AEP, NRG, and FirstEnergy have been reporting to their investors that the costs of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are as much as 70 percent lower than they first estimated.

The bottom line is that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are an extraordinarily beneficial public health measure and are providing healthier, longer lives for millions of Americans at a fraction of the costs predicted.

Second — the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards can and should continue to be implemented while EPA amends its “appropriate and necessary finding.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion did not prohibit the implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – and in the past, the appellate courts have often allowed Clean Air Act regulations to remain in place while EPA amends them to address technical or legal issues.  

In this case, a large majority of American power plants are already in compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — in many instances because they have been upgrading pollution controls to comply with state emission standards or other Clean Air Act requirements.  M.J. Bradley & Associates recently estimated that about 70 percent of the U.S. coal fleet had installed pollution controls to comply with the standards by the April 2015 deadline. In addition, a substantial number of plants have received one-year extensions to this compliance deadline and are now working to install pollution controls by April 2016.

Given the importance of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to public health, and the overwhelming likelihood that EPA will be able to quickly address the Court’s decision, there is no reason that power plants should be allowed to delay installing pollution controls or cease operating already-installed pollution controls.

Third – the Supreme Court decision has no adverse implications for EPA’s Clean Power Plan – despite the wild claims being made by some opponents of these vital limits on carbon pollution from power plants.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Clean Power Plan are based on entirely separate Clean Air Act authorities that reside in separate parts of the statute. The authority EPA is acting on to develop the Clean Power Plan expressly provides for the consideration of costs, and EPA has carefully taken costs into account in the Clean Power Plan in the manner required by the statute. Thus, claims that the ruling on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards should somehow cast doubt on the legality of the Clean Power Plan are severely misguided.

Summing It Up

Marian Burton, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, summed it up perfectly back in 2011, when the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were first proposed:

Dirty air makes children sick … If you think it's an expensive process to put a scrubber on a smokestack, you should see how much it costs over a lifetime to treat a child with a preventable birth defect.

That’s why hundreds of thousands of Americans sent comments to EPA in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

It’s why EDF and so many other health, environmental, and social justice groups will go back to the D.C. Circuit Court to defend the standards.

We’ll keep fighting to make sure the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are fully implemented so we can realize the promise of the Clean Air Act — and make sure all Americans have safe, healthy air to breathe.

Posted in Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Health, News, Policy| Comments are closed

Opportunities for Streamlined, Cost-Effective, and Legally Durable Implementation of the Clean Power Plan

Stroller Brigade 012This post was co-written by EDF's Peter Zalzal

The U.S. is poised to take an historic step this summer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finalize the Clean Power Plan, which will create our nation’s first-ever standards for carbon pollution from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants. These power plants account for almost 40 percent of U.S. carbon pollution, so these new standards are critical to mitigating climate change and protecting public health.

The proposed Clean Power Plan builds on a tradition of partnering with states to reduce air pollution and to protect public health and the environment. For each state, EPA has proposed an individualized carbon pollution goal that reflects the composition of the state’s power sector and its opportunities for cost-effective reductions. Each state will then have the opportunity to design a plan for meeting its goal that is tailored to its unique circumstances and priorities.

In designing these plans, states will have a critical opportunity to ensure that carbon pollution reductions are achieved in a way that delivers important public health protections for all Americans, especially environmental justice communities that bear a disproportionate share of ambient air pollution burdens.

States will also be able to leverage a full suite of cost-effective measures for carbon pollution reduction, including a variety of approaches highlighted in a recent report by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, as well as energy efficiency measures that directly benefit consumers – including low-income households — by lowering their energy bills.

Our new EDF white paper examines how states can design plans that meet federal requirements using well-established regulatory emissions management tools and, at the same time, preserve the compliance flexibility needed to secure cost-effective pollution reduction.

A state would start by designing a plan that places responsibility for meeting the carbon pollution goals directly on entities that own or operate fossil-fuel fired power plants, as many states have already done in the context of other air pollutants. These source-specific standards could be designed to meet either rate-based state goals (requiring that facilities meet a particular level of carbon intensity per unit of generating output), or mass-based state goals (requiring that facilities obtain emission allowances for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit).

These standards would be incorporated into facility-level operating permits. They could also be designed to allow for cost-effective compliance flexibilities — including averaging and trading of emissions among facilities, and recognition of emission reductions from energy efficiency, use of renewable energy, or other measures that reduce pollution from regulated facilities.

Such an approach would allow states and power companies to decide which compliance strategies are most appropriate for regulated entities, and would complement other state policies supporting energy efficiency and renewable energy without requiring that those policies be incorporated into the state plan.

To maximize flexibility, our white paper identifies some common elements that would make state plans compatible with each other, enabling interstate trading of compliance instruments (for states that prefer to do so) without the need for complex negotiations about program design.

Our white paper also examines existing legal frameworks in several states and identifies ample legal authorities that could be used to implement the approach we describe.

For states that don’t submit their own plans to achieve the required emissions reductions, EPA will provide a federal plan for achieving the state’s carbon pollution goal. Having already designed similar plans for other air pollutants, EPA has the experience and the legal authority to design federal plans that promote flexible and cost-effective compliance.

Among the options for a federal plan, our paper describes the advantages of one that provides for a mass-based state emissions goal that is achieved through an emissions trading program – a time-tested approach that has been used successfully by both states and EPA across a variety of administrations to reduce other pollutants from the power sector.

A federal plan could also incorporate the same common elements we describe for state plans, enabling entities covered by the federal plan to more easily trade compliance instruments with entities in other states.

For each federal plan, EPA could work with the affected state to customize it by incorporating the state’s preferences on issues such as the allocation of emission allowances. Like our approach to state plans, this suggested approach for the federal plan would complement any current and future state policies to encourage clean energy, while preserving the ability of the states to change those policies over time.

Our white paper shows that the proposed Clean Power Plan is, at its core, a traditional emissions management program that can be implemented through well-established regulatory approaches mirroring other successful Clean Air Act programs.

Check out our white paper for more information on how both state and federal plans could achieve carbon pollution goals while providing maximum flexibility for compliance, all within existing legal frameworks.

Photo source: Moms Clean Air Force

Posted in Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions| Comments are closed
  • About this blog

    Expert to expert commentary on the science, law and economics of climate change.

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Categories

  • Meet The Bloggers