Category Archives: EPA litgation

A New Step in the Fight to Reduce Toxic Mercury Pollution from Power Plants

(This post was written by EDF Senior Attorneys Graham McCahan and Tomas Carbonell)

Today, EDF and its allies joined the latest fight to protect the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

We filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to deny the petitions that are seeking review of a lower court decision upholding the standards.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will require crucial and long-overdue emission reductions of toxic pollutants including mercury, arsenic, and acid gases from the single largest source of toxic air pollution in the U.S.— coal-fired power plants.

Starting in April 2015, when they go into effect, these standards will prevent thousands of premature deaths, heart attacks, and asthma attacks every year.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were upheld by a panel of judges on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2014 against a variety of legal challenges.

Fortunately, most power plants in the U.S. are already on track to comply with these life-saving standards.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that by the end of 2012 — or more than two years ahead of the April 2015 compliance deadline:

64.3% of the U.S. coal generating capacity in the electric power sector already had the appropriate environmental control equipment to comply with the MATS.

Unfortunately, some power companies and their industry partners continue to file legal attacks against the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Our opponents are continuing their legal attacks in spite of the D.C. Circuit’s detailed opinion strongly upholding EPA’s authority to issue the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and affirming the EPA’s well-reasoned determinations on key technical issues.

Industry interests and states have filed petitions asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the D.C. Circuit’s decision.  Their petitions primarily emphasize the alleged costs of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — even though some of the same power companies have recognized that the standards include flexibilities that have helped them slash their compliance costs.

For instance, Southern Company CFO and Executive Vice President Arthur P. Beattie stated in 2012 that the amount the company projects for MATS compliance costs would be far lower than previously predicted:

[B]ecause of the new flexibility that [the company has] found in the final rules of the MATS regulation." (Arthur P. Beatty, CFO and Executive Vice President of Southern Company,  Deutsche Bank Clean Tech, Utilities and Power Conference, May 15, 2012)

In fact, as the D.C. Circuit recognized in its decision, EPA’s cost-benefit analysis found that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards would yield as much as $90 billion in annual health benefits once implemented — approximately nine times the anticipated cost of the rule.

The good news is that many people and organizations— including public health, equal justice, and environmental groups, plus a number of states and cities — are standing together to safeguard these protections for our communities and families.

Those groups include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Lung Association, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Clean Air Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Environment America, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Natural Resources Council of Maine, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Environmental Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance – along with EDF, of course.

That’s why today we joined together to file a brief with the Supreme Court asking the Justices not to reconsider the D.C. Circuit Court’s decision upholding these life-saving clean air protections.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Victory for Healthy Air: Court Rejects Nebraska Attorney General's Attempt to “Short-Circuit” the Law in Challenge to Carbon Pollution Standards

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning’s attempt to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) efforts to limit carbon pollution from power plants failed yesterday.

The federal district court in Nebraska dismissed the Attorney General’s lawsuit challenging EPA’s proposed Carbon Pollution Standards for new fossil fuel power plants.

The court held that:

[the Attorney General’s] attempt to short-circuit the administrative rulemaking process runs contrary to basic, well-understood administrative law. (Decision, Page 1)

The Attorney General’s challenge was flawed because it was filed only one week after EPA published proposed carbon emission standards for new power plants, in January 2014.

But the law is this case is clear and anchored in common sense.

As the court explained, legal challenges may only be brought against final standards:

Simply stated, the State cannot sue in federal court to challenge a rule that EPA has not yet actually made. (Decision, Page 1)

EPA’s proposed action is still in draft form and has been the subject of extensive public comment.

In December 2012, the D.C. Circuit rejected a similar challenge to EPA’s original proposal for the very same reason — that the standards had yet to be finalized.

This latest attempt at an end run around the Clean Air Act would have deprived the public of a chance to comment on a proposed rule and present its diverse viewpoints to the agency.  Moreover, for a court to review standards that are still being developed would be a waste of judicial resources and Americans’ tax dollars.

The court also noted a defect in the Nebraska Attorney General’s central legal claim.

The Attorney General argued that EPA’s reliance, in part, on data from facilities receiving federal assistance was unlawful.

The court explained:

The merits of this claim are not before the Court. But the Court notes that [Energy Policy Act section] 402(i) only forbids the EPA from considering a given technology or level of emission reduction to be adequately demonstrated solely on the basis of federally-funded facilities. 42 U.S.C. [section] 15962(i). In other words, such technology might be adequately demonstrated if that determination is based at least in part on non-federally-funded facilities. (Decision, Footnote 1, Page 5)

EDF previously examined the flaws with the Nebraska Attorney General’s legal claim in a detailed white paper. (You can read my blog about the white paper here)

Unfortunately for the citizens of Nebraska, Attorney General Bruning is devoting precious taxpayer resources to misguided legal attacks.

It’s not the only way in which Nebraska’s taxpayer dollars are being deployed to block vital clean air progress for our nation.

The Guardian reported that Bruning, on a conference call organized by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), told other state attorneys general that Nebraska has challenged EPA authority more than 30 times and will keep on doing so.

Yet the Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants have won broad public support from millions of Americans — including public health associations, Moms Clean Air Force, faith-based organizations, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and leading power companies.

Nebraska’s failed lawsuit is just one more misguided attempt to prevent vital limitations on the carbon pollution emitted by power plants from moving forward.

According to the Guardian, Bruning claims that:

EPA continues to try and ‘fix things’ that are not broken.

Tell that to the millions of Americans who are experiencing the harmful impacts of climate change.

While EPA takes steps to address carbon pollution from the single largest source in the country, Attorney General Bruning is devoting Nebraska’s tax dollars to flawed lawsuits.

Fortunately, millions of Americans in red and blue states alike are working together to forge solutions for our families, our communities and our nation.

Also posted in Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Supreme Court Decision Leaves Greenhouse Gas Permit Requirements for Large Industrial Polluters in Place

(This post was written by EDF Senior Attorneys Pamela Campos and Peter Zalzal)

Source: Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This morning the Supreme Court issued a 7-to-2 decision confirming that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may continue to require large industrial sources of climate pollution to use the best available control technology when building or rebuilding plants.  A 5-to-4 majority also determined that such pre-construction permits would not be required for the many smaller sources that EPA had concluded would pose significant administrative problems.

Today’s decision is good news for all of us exposed to the health and climate impacts of new industrial plants. It also leaves the vast majority of already-issued greenhouse gas permits untouched.

While there are a handful of permits potentially impacted by today’s decision, an EPA database shows that the vast majority of permits issued between 2011 and 2013 cover both greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

A separate EPA update from March 2014 shows that the large majority of permits issued are for exactly the type of plants Congress, and the Supreme Court, had in mind – large industrial sources such as power plants, oil and gas-related plants, chemical plants, and cement plants.

By design, EPA’s tailoring rule applied only to the largest sources of air pollution. For the first six months of implementation, the rule explicitly applied only to sources emitting large amounts of both greenhouse gases and other air pollutants. In the last 3 years, permits have been required only for the largest sources of greenhouse gas pollutants – the types of sources that also emit large amounts of non-greenhouse gas pollutants. (See slides 26 and 27 of this EPA presentation)

Since 2011, more than 160 new and modified large industrial sources have incorporated the best available technologies for limiting greenhouse gases.

As a result, we have new and updated power plants in California that have improved efficiency by up to 88 percent, gas plants in Maryland that are using high-efficiency combined cycle turbines that reduce facility costs, and cement kilns that have cut greenhouse gas pollution by 40 percent while reducing energy costs. (See pages 38 and 39 of this legal brief filed by the states)

Today’s decision means that the Clean Air Act will continue to play a role in advancing use of efficient, cost-effective technologies that cut both global and local air pollution from large polluters. And that’s good news for all of us.

Also posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| Comments closed

EPA’s Authority to Limit Carbon Pollution from Power Plants Is Well Established and Widely Recognized

Gavel_iStock000003633182Medium(This post was written by EDF attorney Megan Ceronsky and legal fellow Peter Heisler)

The bedrock legal authority underlying the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan is broadly recognized — by our nation’s highest court, states, power companies, academic experts and the EPA General Counsel serving during the President George H.W. Bush administration.

Our recent Climate 411 post chronicles the Supreme Court’s decisions affirming EPA’s authority to address carbon pollution from power plants under section 111 of the Clean Air Act.

In Massachusetts v. EPA (2007), the Court held that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.  Then, in AEP v. Connecticut (2011), the Court explicitly recognized EPA’s authority to limit emissions of carbon dioxide from power plants pursuant to section 111, and acknowledged the agency’s ongoing efforts to do so.

Even before AEP was decided, however, legal researchers and academics had identified section 111 as a promising avenue for regulating carbon pollution from power plants and industrial facilities:

  • A 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service found that “Section 111 appears to provide a strong basis for EPA to establish a traditional regulatory approach to controlling greenhouse gas emissions from large stationary sources.”
  • A 2010 paper by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions observed that “[S]ection 111 appears to provide the EPA with the best means to create a system that … implements a cost-effective program that delivers meaningful emissions reductions, is consistent with both the statutory language of the Act and legal precedent, and is politically viable.”
  • A 2011 survey of the academic community found “widespread agreement” that “[section] 111 authorizes the use of many types of flexible approaches” to regulating carbon pollution.

Indeed, states, power companies, and other stakeholders have all recently analyzed and supported EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution from power plants:

  • Kentucky recognized EPA’s role in setting the benchmark that states will have to meet under section 111.
  • Pennsylvania said that section 111 was the “most appropriate” provision for regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
  • The nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative “recommend[ed] that EPA use its authority under section 111 of the Clean Air Act to ensure significant overall reductions in carbon emissions."
  • Fifteen states from across the country agreed that “EPA needs to seize [the] opportunity [for pollution reduction] because Section 111(d) standards are to be based on the ‘best system of emission reduction,’” including energy efficiency and renewable energy.
  • The Clean Energy Group, whose members include some of the largest generators of electricity in the country, noted that “EPA has significant discretion under section 111(d) in determining both the appropriate level of the standards for existing power plants, as well as the form of the regulations.”

Environmental law experts have also analyzed and endorsed EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution from power plants:

  • UCLA Law Professor Ann Carlson said “[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.”
  • Harvard Professor Jody Freeman called critics’ claims to the contrary “weak,” explaining that “[t]he record clearly shows that Congress intended to ensure that harmful pollutants from existing power plants could not entirely escape regulation. These emissions qualify for regulation under 111(d) because they are not covered elsewhere in the law and account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s total emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal driver of global warming.”
  • E. Donald Elliott, EPA General Counsel under President George H.W. Bush, noted that “the Supreme Court and other courts have upheld EPA’s authority to address this issue,” and “[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…”
  • Carol Browner, EPA Administrator during the Clinton administration, wrote that “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.”

Finally, Leon G. Billings, who was the principal staff author of the Clean Air Act of 1970, shared his personal knowledge of the statute:

Critics of the move 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.

The legal community broadly recognizes EPA’s authority and obligation to address carbon pollution emitted by power plants. This is perhaps unsurprising, as all these statements simply echo what the Supreme Court has already held — that EPA’s efforts to reduce carbon pollution from power plants are firmly grounded in the law.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan| 3 Responses, comments now closed

EPA Getting It Right: Supreme Court Affirms EPA’s Common-Sense Approach to Controlling Air Pollution from Power Plants

(This post was co-authored by EDF Attorneys Megan Ceronsky and Graham McCahan)

In a tremendous victory for clean air, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision this week upholding the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

The high court found the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule to be a:

permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of [the Clean Air Act]. (page 32 of the decision)

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule is a common-sense and cost-effective framework to protect American communities from the dangerous air pollution that is emitted by coal-fired power plants and then carried by the wind from one state to another.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule implements the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act, which Congress put in place to address this problem.

The “good neighbor” provision requires each state to curb emissions from in-state power plants that interfere with the ability of downwind states to secure clean and safe air for their citizens.

By cutting the emissions that create smog and soot, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule — when implemented – will avoid up to 34,000 premature deaths, prevent 400,000 asthma attacks, and provide up to $280 billion in health and environmental benefits each year.

Downwind communities will finally have cleaner, safer air to breathe.

This victory is only the latest in a series of court decisions upholding EPA’s actions to address harmful pollution from power plants as firmly grounded in law and science.

Just two weeks ago, for example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the agency’s landmark standards to cut mercury and other toxic pollutants emitted by power plants.

The Mercury standards will eliminate 90 percent of the mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants. They will avoid 11,000 premature deaths each year while preventing thousands of heart attacks, bronchitis cases, and asthma attacks. They will also save up to $90 billion a year by reducing sick days and trips to emergency rooms.

As we look forward to the proposal of the Carbon Pollution Standards for power plants, we expect more of the same — common-sense, cost-effective standards, built on a solid legal foundation, which will finally curb climate-destabilizing emissions from the largest source of this pollution in our country.

The Supreme Court’s ruling made Tuesday a wonderful day for clean air.

We believe more good air days are yet to come.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Health, News, Policy| Comments closed

The Supreme Court and Climate Pollution: What is – and is not — at stake

(This post originally appeared on EDF Voices)

Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in a case challenging EPA’s interpretation that the Clean Air Act permit program requiring new and rebuilt industrial sources to deploy leading pollution control technology for each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act applies to greenhouse gases, just as these requirements have limited other airborne contaminants for over three decades.

The case is Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA (No. 12-1146)

What’s at stake: Innovation in Addressing Climate Pollution and Clearing the Air about Climate Obstructionism

This case is remarkable for what is not at stake, as well as for what is.

While the Supreme Court is considering only a single legal question of the numerous issues that were raised, this case has important implications.

Exempting climate pollution from these specific provisions of the Clean Air Act would harm innovation, because they were carefully designed by Congress to spur the development of new pollution prevention and control techniques for industrial sources. Putting a stop to these legislatively-crafted incentives to innovation in precisely the area where we so urgently need innovation – in addressing climate-destabilizing pollution — would be a damaging loss and risks “locking in” new high emitting and long lived industrial infrastructure. Such an exemption for climate pollution is patently contrary to Congress’s specific command, in the statutory provisions at issue here, that these innovation-spurring requirements apply to “each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act”.

Climate obstructionists will undoubtedly twist the meaning of the case to suggest broader implications, despite the court's decision to review only one narrow question. While the Administration is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act to address climate pollution – in accordance with the authority that was twice affirmed by the United States Supreme Court — climate obstructionists will use this case to sow havoc and attack the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Indeed, these forces have already attacked EPA by unsuccessfully litigating virtually every aspect of EPA’s first generation climate protections in court over a span of many years. Unfortunately, they will continue to attack EPA in the public square invoking the polarizing rhetoric that most Americans associate with divisive Beltway politics – not real world solutions.

What is not at stake in this case is the EPA’s determination that six greenhouse gases –carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride –endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations. This is the bedrock for EPA’s manifest authority to adopt climate protections for cleaner cars and cleaner freight trucks, for reducing the potent methane leaked and vented from oil and gas development activities in the same way that Colorado has adopted methane emissions standards, and for cutting the massive carbon pollution from power plants — the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution and one of the largest in the world.

The history behind the case

For the past four years, big polluters and litigants such as the Attorney General of Texas have been suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over all aspects of EPA’s climate protections for America – including the science-based endangerment finding, and the historic Clean Cars Standards that are saving Americans money at the gas pump while strengthening our nation’s energy security and reducing pollution. By contrast, the U.S. Automakers have consistently supported the clean car standards.

These dozens of lawsuits were considered together by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit – which upheld EPA’s climate protections and rejected the legal challenges. In 2012, a three Judge panel of that court held that EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act was “unambiguously correct.” Then-Chief Judge David Sentelle, appointed to the Court by President Ronald Regan, was a member of the three Judge panel that unanimously affirmed EPA’s action.

Opponents filed numerous petitions seeking review by the Supreme Court, which refused to entertain most of their challenges.

Instead, the Court granted review of a single question – whether, under the terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA’s regulation of climate pollution from cars triggered the requirement for pre-construction permits limiting the climate pollution discharged by large, new and rebuilt industrial sources of that pollution in the same way these requirements have applied to other air pollutants from these sources for over 35 years.

Bottom line

We need all available safeguards under the Clean Air Act to address the urgent challenge of climate change – including the advanced pollution control measures required as an essential protection in construction permits for large industrial sources. These measures are vital if we hope to minimize industrial climate pollution.

Further, one of the principal legal theories being advanced by petitioners would have adverse consequences for EPA’s long-standing interpretation of the law – spanning the Presidencies of Ronald Regan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush – that has expansively applied the protections of the Clean Air Act’s pre-construction review permit program to all regulated air pollutants. This line of attack, designed to narrow the air pollutants subject to these limits, would call into question the application of the program to pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide, fluorides and sulfuric acid mist.

Finally, we need to tell the truth to the public, to policymakers and to the highest Court in the land that EPA is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the nation’s clean air laws to protect human health and the environment from climate pollution. We must take a stand against the sharply polarizing rhetorical excess leveled at EPA. For the real world solutions that have won far reaching support, look no further than the cleaner cars on the road today that are strengthening our energy security, saving families hard earned money at the gas pump, and cutting carbon pollution.

This is why EDF will be at the Supreme Court today.

Editor’s Note: Environmental Defense Fund is a party to the case before the Supreme Court and participated in the presentation of oral arguments when the case was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  A coalition of states and NGO allies are also vigorously defending these clean air protections against legal attack — including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the city of New York.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy| 1 Response, comments now closed
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    Megan CeronskyMegan Ceronsky
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