Tag: Clean Air Act

Halt the EPA’s Takeover of Energy Markets


Next week in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, an epic showdown will take place in the Supreme Court over the scope of the power that the EPA may wield under the Clean Air Act over the emissions of fossil fuels from stationary sources throughout the United States. At the core of this dispute is a 1970 statutory amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 7411(a), which defines the “standard of performance” applicable to all new construction of stationary sources of pollution as

a standard for emissions of air pollutants which reflects the degree of emission limitation achievable through the application of the best system of emission reduction [BSER] which (taking into account the cost of achieving such reduction and any nonair quality health and environmental impact and energy requirements) the Administrator determines has been adequately demonstrated.

On the one side, West Virginia, a state with abundant coal resources, leads a large coalition of Republican states, which argues, in line with historical practice, that BSER refers to the kind of equipment adjustments that can be made to a specific piece of equipment that is a source of emission, which would include filters and scrubbers that reduce the amount of air pollution. That position was incorporated in the 2019 Trump administration Affordable Clean Energy rule (ACE rule), which had retracted the far more expansive Clean Power Plan (CPP) promulgated in 2015 by the Obama administration. CPP had not only effectively imposed equipment changes, but in practice would have resulted in a federally mandated industrywide shift away from coal and other fossil sources to leverage the “already clearly emerging growth in clean energy innovation,” to secure nationwide reductions in greenhouse emissions.

Junk Obama’s Clean Power Plan


In 2015, the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Clean Power Plan (CPP) that prescribed detailed regulations for the control of carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-powered power plants as part of its effort to control climate change. Earlier this month, the Trump EPA under Scott Pruitt issued its own proposed rule to undo the Obama administration’s guidelines without a commitment to replace them with a substitute set of rules dedicated to the same end. In response to Pruitt’s major shift in policy direction, states like Massachusetts and New York are suing to prevent the new legal regime from going into effect.

Pruitt’s reversal in environmental policy raises two issues—one scientific and one legal. The scientific issue revolves around the 2009 endangerment findings from an Obama administration study, which determined that carbon dioxide emissions are a pollutant whose emissions levels must be regulated under the Clean Air Act (CAA) because “greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may reasonably be anticipated both to endanger public health and to endanger public welfare.” Other chemicals on the list of six designated pollutants—like methane and nitrous oxide, with known toxicities—surely deserve that designation, but the Obama report overstates the risks of carbon dioxide to the environment.

Although that report acknowledges that the relevant science is evolving, it does not recognize that new information about climate change could weaken the case for regulating carbon dioxide. For example, the 2009 report assumes that modest increases in temperature are likely to create dangers to crops by shortening the growing season. But more careful studies since that time have shown that the increase in carbon dioxide has resulted, as Matt Ridley reports, in a dramatic increase in the greenery on the earth’s surface of about 14 percent over the last 30 years. This far outpaces any supposed harm that might come, as the EPA report suggests, from “weed and pest growth,” which are best controlled by specific technologies and not by top-down policies addressing climate change generally.

Leave the Environment to the States


shutterstock_124385440Unless you were hiding under a rock this Earth Day, you probably heard the familiar tale of how America (ca. 1970) was on the brink of turning into one vast toxic waste dump until the federal government swooped in to save us all with the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and so on.

According to the conventional history, the Clean Water Act rescued America from the brink of environmental apocalypse. Before the federal government acted, according the New York Times, “the nation’s waters were in terrible shape … Lake Erie on its deathbed, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River bursting into flames.” In reality, the states were actively working to protect the environment well before the federal government got involved. By 1966 — six years before the federal Clean Water Act — every state had enacted water pollution legislation and had empowered one or more state agencies to enforce environmental standards.

In Cleveland, the citizens knew about pollution on the Cuyahoga long before Washington took notice. In 1968, the city’s voters had approved a $100 million bond issue to finance river cleanup, whereas Congress allocated nothing to Cleveland. As for Lake Erie, if it was on its “deathbed,” as the New York Times says, it was partly due to the fact that the federal government (the Army Corps of Engineers) was busy dumping over a million cubic yards of contaminated material into the lake each year in the late 1960s.