Monthly Archives: February 2012

Day Two of Landmark Clean Air Cases: Courtroom Arguments Wrap Up

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. heard its second and final day of oral arguments, today, in a landmark group of cases about EPA’s critical climate protections.

Today’s arguments focused on EPA’s actions to require cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reductions from the largest sources, like power plants — while shielding smaller sources.

I was at the courthouse again today. Here’s a look at some of the highlights:

The judges began by examining EPA’s decision to initially focus climate protections on the largest sources of pollution. The judges closely questioned the Solicitor General of the State of Texas about how this focus on large sources harmed the state.

In a pointed exchange, Chief Judge Sentelle noted that the remedy Texas seeks — invalidation of the large-source thresholds — would seem to cause Texas injury where, under EPA’s current program, none exists. 

The Chief Judge underscored the seeming irrationality of this position, noting that Texas’s argument:

[D]oesn’t even make good non-sense.

The questioning then turned to EPA’s long-standing rules describing the workings of the permitting system for the largest sources of pollution. Those rules are more than 30 years old.

In this series of exchanges, Judge Tatel focused on provisions of the Clean Air Act that capture “any air pollutant” within this program. He questioned the Petitioners about how this language, and the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, could possibly allow the agency to exclude greenhouse gas pollutants.

Like yesterday, the judges closely examined EPA’s legal authority. Today, they pointedly questioned both Petitioners and EPA. 

It was another fascinating day in the courtroom with important implications for protecting human health and the environment from the clear and present danger climate pollution poses.   

Now, we’ll all have to wait for the court’s decisions –probably sometime in the summer. We’ll bring you updates as soon as anything happens.

In the meantime, you can read more about the EPA’s endangerment findings and the attacks on EPA’s climate change protections on our website, or from my earlier blogs posts – a preview of the case, or a look at yesterday’s proceedings.

Posted in Cars and Pollution, Clean Air Act, Climate Change Legislation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Day One of Landmark Clean Air Cases: A Report from the Courtroom

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. heard oral arguments in two of EPA’s critical climate protections: EPA’s finding that six greenhouse gases endanger the human health and welfare of current and future generations; and EPA’s greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks. 

I had the chance to sit in the courtroom and listen to the historic arguments. Here’s a look at some of the highlights.

The courtroom doors opened at 8:00 am. Arguments began a little after 9:00 in front of a packed courtroom. They lasted almost three hours, during which time Chief Judge Sentelle and Circuit Judges Tatel and Rogers focused closely on the legal underpinnings of EPA’s actions.

The questioning often returned to the importance of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. In that decision, the High Court determined that greenhouse gases are “air pollutants” under America’s clean air laws, and directed EPA to determine whether they endanger human health and welfare on the basis of science. 

Against this backdrop, today’s Petitioners forwarded non-scientific reasons that they claimed would permit EPA to avoid finding that greenhouse gases are harmful to human health. That line of reasoning prompted Chief Judge Sentelle to note that:

Sometimes in reading Petitioners’ briefs, I got the feeling that Massachusetts hadn’t been decided.

Among these non-scientific factors: Petitioners urged that EPA must consider humans’ ability to adapt to a changing climate in determining whether greenhouse gases endanger human health.  

In a hypothetical, Judge Tatel probed the flawed implications of that argument – he asked whether Petitioners’ position meant that EPA could determine that a cancer-causing pollutant did not pose a danger to public health on the grounds that society may, at some future point, develop a cure for cancer.     

The court then turned to the second case for the day – the challenge to the clean car standards. Petitioners urged that EPA should have declined to adopt these standards, or delayed adoption indefinitely, on account of the alleged implications such standards would have for large sources of climate pollution.  

The judges’ questions again turned to the plain terms of the Clean Air Act, which directs that EPA “shall” issue emissions standards for new motor vehicles once the agency makes an endangerment determination. The judges questioned Petitioners about why they thought it possible to evade such a clear statutory command. 

U.S. auto makers intervened in this second case in support of EPA’s rules. The car companies noted during today’s arguments that the legal challenges are peculiar for three reasons:

  • No Petitioners are actually regulated by the emission standards
  • The industry that is directly regulated – the automakers – supports the clean car standard
  • No Petitioner has any quarrel with the actual level of the standards.    

All in all, it was a fascinating day for anyone interested in protecting human health and the environment from climate pollution, or for anyone interested in learning more about the rule of law.

We should have more groundbreaking moments tomorrow, when the court hears two more cases involving EPA’s requirements that new, large, industrial emitters deploy the best available cost-effective strategies to reduce harmful climate pollution.

I’m planning to be back in court tomorrow, and I’ll post another wrap-up of the day’s arguments.  

After that, we’ll all have to wait for the court to rule – probably sometime this summer.

In the meantime, learn more about the EPA’s endangerment findings and the attacks on EPA’s climate change protections on our website, or from my earlier blog.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News / Read 1 Response

Credible Sources Agree: EPA’s Rules will have Modest Economic Impacts

We’ve posted so many stories like this that sometimes it’s hard to keep count, but here is yet another slew of reputable sources finding the EPA rules will not destroy the economy.  In fact, it may just be the boost it needs.  The Director of Regulatory Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute just wrote a piece that sums it up nicely.  Here are some facts he rounded up on the air toxics rule:

  • Economic Policy Institute (EPI)- forecast to have a modest, positive net impact on overall employment—likely leading to the creation of 84,500 to 117,000 jobs between now and 2015
  • Congressional Research Service (CRS)- The benefits are also large, according to EPA, ranging from $37 billion to $90 billion annually.  The benefits mostly reflect the monetized value of avoiding up to 11,000 premature deaths annually.
  • Congressional Budget Office (CBO)- “On balance, CBO expects that delaying or eliminating those [EPA air] regulations regarding emissions would reduce investment and output during the next few years.”

Read the full article here:

Posted in Clean Air Act, Climate Change Legislation, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, What Others are Saying / Comments are closed

Landmark Environmental Court Battle on Horizon

On February 28th and 29th, the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. will hear oral arguments in challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency’s landmark clean air measures to protect American’s health and well-being from the clear and present danger of climate pollution.

In one corner states like Texas and large industrial polluters are challenging EPA’s action.  In the other, EPA’s defenders include a dozen states, business like the U.S. auto makers, and environmental groups like EDF.

There are a group of clean air rules in question:

  • The Climate Pollution Endangerment Finding- On December 15, 2009, EPA determined that six greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare of current and future generations. EPA based this finding on more than 100 published scientific studies and peer-reviewed syntheses of climate change research.  The finding follows from the Supreme Court’s landmark 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, where the Court held that greenhouse gases are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act and instructed EPA to determine — on the basis of science — whether these gases endanger human health and welfare.
  • Clean Car Standards- landmark fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for passenger cars and light trucks.  These standards are supported by U.S. auto makers, the United Auto Workers, and a dozen states – among others – because they will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, reduce harmful greenhouse gas pollution, and save consumers money.
  • Application of Climate Pollution Protections to Largest Emitters – EPA requires new large, industrial emitters (like power plants) deploy the best available cost-effective strategies to reduce harmful climate pollution in a timely fashion- a requirement EPA has phased in, focusing on the largest industrial sources of climate pollution while shielding small sources.

There is much at stake for our nation’s environment and economy, but we’ll be in the courtroom and giving you updates every step of the way.

If you’re looking for more background, EDF has compiled detailed information about the cases. You can read more about the rules and the parties involved, and find the court briefs. You can also read about the EPA’s endangerment findings.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Climate Change Legislation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed

Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Published Today

It’s official!

The historic Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants were published in the Federal Register.

That means the official, final rule is now available to the public for the first time. It also means we’ve taken another crucial step towards putting these lifesaving standards into effect.

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that damages the brains of young children and developing fetuses. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will limit the levels of mercury and other toxic pollution in our air.

These limits are required under the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. They have already been delayed for more than twenty years – but now, finally, we’re moving ahead toward a cleaner and healthier future.

This Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule will:

  • Save up to 11,000  lives every year
  • Prevent 90% of the toxic mercury in the coal that’s burned by power plants from being emitted into our air
  • Level the playing field for coal and oil-fired power plants that have already updated their facilities with made-in-America, cost-effective technology
  • Create tens of thousands of jobs for the Americans who will build, install, and operate the pollution controls

Companies will have three years to comply with the rule. A fourth year will be broadly available to companies needing more time to install pollution controls — and even more time can be arranged beyond that, if needed to maintain electric reliability.

This is an historic win for public health, the environment, and the economy.

Unfortunately, however, we already know there will be some opponents who choose to invest their money in dismantling the rule through the courts or through Congress — instead of investing in life-saving technologies to reduce toxic emissions.

Letting that happen would be bad for all of us.

 At EDF, we plan to work vigorously to defend this rule in Congress and the courts over the coming years. I hope you’ll all join us.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, Policy / Read 1 Response

It’s Just Business (but FirstEnergy Blames Its Decisions on Clean Air Rules)

Twice in the last two weeks, FirstEnergy has announced it will shut down old coal-fired power plants – then tried to blame those business decisions on the clean air rules that protect us all from toxic pollution.

First, at the end of January, First Energy announced it would retire six coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The company blamed those closures on new EPA regulations that will protect us from mercury, acid gases and other toxic air pollution – but FirstEnergy is going to retire the plants by September 1 of this year.

The compliance deadline for the new EPA rules isn’t for at least three years (2015 — with possible extensions to 2017). 

What’s more, FirstEnergy announced a decision to switch some of those six units from full-time to seasonal operation, and to temporarily mothball others, more than 16 months ago — before EPA even issued its proposal for the new rule.

Clearly, there’s more to the story than just EPA regulations.

Then, this week, First Energy announced it will close three more old coal plants in West Virginia. The company once again tried to pin the blame on EPA.

But the three plants in question were built between 1943 and 1960. They were built while Presidents Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower were in office. The oldest was built while we were still fighting World War II.

The plants are not closing just because of clean air regulations. They’re closing because they’re aging and inefficient, and because they are facing competition from natural gas.

Many factors contribute to the new utility investment cycle. They include:

  • Age – 59% of America’s coal fired power plants are over 40 years old, with many over 60 years old.

According to former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell:

In 1970, the [Clean Air Act] required that new sources meet tight emissions standards. At that time, it was assumed that electrical utility units had an average lifetime of 30 years.

  • Competition from Natural Gas – with increasing natural gas supplies and lower prices, the market is shifting to more efficient combined cycle natural gas generators over old, inefficient coal plants.

One industry analyst told the Wall Street Journal:

Inexpensive natural gas is the biggest threat to coal. Nothing else even comes close.

  • Low utilization –the older units are often small, inefficient, and operated only part-time. From a business perspective, it is not cost effective to keep paying the fixed costs needed to maintain them for limited operation. Energy efficiency and demand response programs are far more efficient ways of meeting these energy needs.

In its press release announcing the closings of the three West Virginia plants, First Energy itself points out:

[T]hese plants served mostly as peaking facilities, generating, on average, less than 1 percent of the electricity produced by FirstEnergy over the past three years.

  • Health and the Environment – it is not surprising that these old, inefficient power plants are also disproportionately higher emitters of pollutants, and often have not had modern pollution control equipment installed.

We have information and graphics to illustrate this issue on our new fact sheet.

Business decisions in the utility sector are complex. Don’t let plant owners use our health protections as a scapegoat for their choice to retire old coal-fired power plants.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Economics, Energy, News / Comments are closed