Category Archives: EPA litgation

Misguided Legal Attacks on Clean Power Plan Seek to Undermine Clean Air Act, Public Participation

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will finalize rules establishing the nation’s first limits on carbon pollution from the power sector – the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States – by mid-summer of this year.

This timetable will allow EPA to carefully consider and respond to the approximately four million public comments it has received on almost every aspect of these vital and common-sense standards, which were proposed in draft form last summer as the Clean Power Plan.

Unfortunately, several states and a major coal producer have attempted to short-circuit this process by filing highly unusual legal challenges to these proposed standards. The challenges were filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in two related cases, Murray Energy Corporation v. EPA (Nos. 14-1112 & 14-1151) and West Virginia v. EPA (No. 14-1146).

EDF — along with other environmental groups, a coalition of states, and a major power company — participated in these suits in support of EPA, and briefs were filed in both cases this week. (Read our brief in Murray Energy here and our brief in West Virginia here).

These lawsuits are untimely, legally unfounded, and seek to undermine a critically important democratic process.

One of the bedrock principles of administrative law is that standards developed by federal agencies go through a procedure whereby draft standards are published, the public has an opportunity to comment, and agencies review and respond to those comments in the final standards — all before legal challenges to those rules can be filed.

This process ensures that the public has a meaningful chance to weigh in on agency actions. It also helps agencies themselves ensure their decisions are well-informed and firmly grounded in law and science. In fact, proposed rules often undergo substantial changes as a result of the comment process. The rule against judicial review of proposed rules respects the importance of this process, and keeps courts and agencies from wasting valuable time and judicial resources on litigation over rules that may change as a result of public comments.

Disregarding this basic principle, the petitioners in these two cases argue that the proposed Clean Power Plan is unlawful – and demand that the court set the proposed rule aside before EPA has even finished its review of comments, much less issued a final rule.

But this fundamental jurisdictional obstacle is only the start of the problems with the petitioners’ case, which rests on an implausible reading of the Clean Air Act that would undermine the very health protections Congress sought to establish there.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan is authorized by section 111(d) of the Act, which requires EPA to administer a process by which states submit plans to regulate certain pollutants from existing sources of harmful air pollution. When enacted in 1970, section 111(d) clearly required that states establish such standards for any pollutant except those regulated under section 108 of the Clean Air Act (which addresses national air quality standards) and section 112 (which applies to acutely toxic “hazardous air pollutants” or HAPs).

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 from existing sources, where that pollution is not adequately regulated under other provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Ignoring that sensible and long-standing framework, the petitioners in these cases have advanced an unusual theory — that EPA is barred from regulating carbon pollution at all under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act because the Agency is already regulating different pollutants from the power sector (mercury and other air toxics) under section 112 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 HAPs like mercury (under section 112) or non-HAPs like carbon pollution (under section 111(d)) for any given source, but not both.

The petitioners’ interpretation not only defies logic and the basic structure of our nation’s clean air laws, it also stands in sharp contrast to arguments that industry itself made to the Supreme Court in the case of American Electric Power v. Connecticut (2011).

There, the Court specifically found that section 111(d) “speaks directly” to the problem of carbon pollution from the power sector, and held that EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution under section 111(d) displaces federal common law.

In oral argument in American Electric Power, attorneys for some of the country’s largest power companies told the Court in no uncertain terms that EPA does have authority to regulate carbon dioxide 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.”

Four years later, petitioners now claim that EPA is required to adopt their interpretation as a result of changes made to the text of section 111(d) as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.

In 1990, in an effort to update a cross-reference to the hazardous air pollution program under section 112, the Senate and House each passed technical amendments making minor changes to the same language in section 111(d). Congress then enacted, and the President signed into law, both amendments to the statute.

Even petitioners do not contest that the language of the Senate Amendment clearly preserves EPA’s long-standing authority to regulate carbon pollution under section 111(d) (as well as other pollutants not regulated under sections 108 or 112). However, petitioners have seized on the House amendment, which amended section 111(d) to require that EPA regulate “any pollutant” which is not “emitted from a source category which is regulated under [section 112].” This language, they claim, prevents EPA from regulating carbon dioxide from existing power plants —because power plants are subject to emission standards for mercury, acid gases, and other HAPs under section 112.

This argument finds no support in the Act’s text, structure, or legislative history.

First, the petitioners’ theory would radically change the structure of the Clean Air Act in a way that Congress could never have intended. Under the Petitioners’ theory, section 111(d) would not apply to any pollutant, no matter how harmful, that is emitted by the dozens of industrial source types regulated under section 112 of the Clean Air Act. Significant categories of harmful pollution, not limited to carbon dioxide, would be placed beyond the scope of regulation under the Clean Air Act. 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.

Second, 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 – a strong indication that Congress intended for section 112 to work seamlessly with, not displace, section 111(d).

Third, the petitioners’ theory is completely at odds with the purpose of the 1990 Amendments, which strengthened the Act in numerous ways in order to ensure that harmful air pollution was being effectively addressed.

Petitioners also urge the court to disregard what Congress actually did by ignoring the Senate amendment, which even petitioners agree clearly preserves EPA’s authority to regulate carbon pollution under section 111(d). But the Senate amendment was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President. As the law of the land, the Senate Amendment cannot be cast aside.

Instead, the petitioners emphasize a strained interpretation of the House Amendment that is not only unreasonable on its face and inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion in AEP, as described above, but is contrary to all of the actions taken by every administration in the twenty-five years since the 1990 amendments were enacted.

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. This long record shows that the House amendment is most reasonably interpreted to preserve the historic “gap-filling” role of section 111(d).

It is regrettable that petitioners have resorted to premature litigation rather than allow the administrative process to run its course.

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 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 children's health from all harmful air pollution.

Cecilia Segal, a legal intern at EDF, helped to prepare this post.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy| Comments closed

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| Comments 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| Comments 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| Comments 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
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