Once again taking a forefront position in innovative environmental programs, California, for good or ill, is poised to launch the first of its kind and scope in the nation greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions trading system (“Cap and Trade”). 

On November 14, 2012, the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) will hold an auction mandated by California’s 2006 “Climate Change” law, AB32, in which pollution permits (“Allowances”) will be bartered to more than 350 businesses, including utilities and refineries.  The concept behind Cap and Trade is that polluters must either cut carbon emissions to the level of a specific emission cap placed on individual types of pollutants by AB32, or buy allowances for each metric ton of carbon discharged over cap limits from other companies whose emissions did not reach cap levels.  Through the Cap and Trade program, excess carbon polluters can achieve up to 8% of emissions reductions needed. 
 


Continue Reading “Cap and Trade” in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Launched in California

On March 27, 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) proposed a Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants (“Carbon Standard”), setting national limits on the amount of carbon pollution power plants built in the future can emit.  The rules are a reaction to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), in which, among other things, the Supreme Court held that greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide (“CO2”) are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.  EPA was charged by the court with issuing an “endangerment finding,” i.e., a determination that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare which was issued on December 15, 2009. 

Immediately upon their initial promulgation, the Carbon Standard generated more contention than power plants generate greenhouse gases.  The Wall Street Journal charged, in an article entitled “Killing Coal,” that “because the putative ‘regulatory impact’ would be zero, there are also no benefits.”  It went on to say that, because the rule would apply not only to new plants but also to every plant upgrade or modification in existing facilities; and because the technology required to meet the standard is still speculative, the EPA’s real goal must be to put a stop to the use of coal in electricity generating. 

The EPA immediately fired back, characterizing the critique of the Carbon Standard in, among others, the Wall Street Journal, as examples of “fact free assault.”  Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy pointed to the “example” that, in fact, “this standard only applies to new sources – that is power plants that will be constructed in the future.  This standard would never apply to existing power plants.”  Moreover, again pointing to the Wall Street Journal editorial, she stated “the proposed rule explicitly does not apply to facilities making such modifications.  In fact, EPA did not propose a standard for any modifications.”

The proposed Carbon Standard speaks for itself. 


Continue Reading EPA’s Proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants Creates Controversy

On October 20, 2011, the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) adopted a new set of rules, called “cap-and-trade,” implementing the requirements of AB32, California’s groundbreaking climate change law. Enacted in 2006, AB32 requires reduction in carbon emissions, usually credited as the cause of “global warming,” to 1990 levels by the year 2020. The new cap-and-trade regulations will be implemented in phases, with the State’s largest emitters required to meet the caps beginning in 2013; and remaining emitters, collectively about 85%, required to begin compliance in 2015.


Continue Reading “Cap-and-Trade” Caps California’s Climate Change Regulations

A Federal Court has recently thrown open the door to potential civil challenges to both private and governmental sources of greenhouse gas emissions, based on the Federal common law of nuisance. For those who believe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has acted too slowly in promulgating greenhouse gas regulation, civil actions are now possible at least in the Second Circuit. However, the Supreme Court may now scrutinize the Second Circuit’s decision. Based on a recent Fourth Circuit decision on a similar issue, the “Nine” may be tempted to follow in Moses’ footsteps and pare down the Second Circuit decision to apply only to greenhouse gas emissions from Federal projects.


Continue Reading Preemption Rears its Head Again in Federal Common Law and Nuisance Climate Change Challenge

After all of the debate was over, both on the Senate floor and in the press, it boiled down to a party line vote – again, with six Democrats crossing over to vote for the other side. As Jim Abrams of The Associated Press reported:

The defeated resolution would have denied the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to move ahead with [its] rules [requiring permits for greenhouse gas emissions (“the tailoring rule”)], crafted under the federal Clean Air Act. With President Barack Obama’s broader clean energy legislation struggling to gain a foothold in the Senate, the vote took on greater significance as a signal of where lawmakers stand on dealing with climate change.
 


Continue Reading Senate Narrowly Turns Down Sen. Murkowski’s (R-AK) Attempt to Overrule EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Rules

Over two years ago, on April 2, 2007, the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497 (2007), directed the EPA Administrator to determine whether or not emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare, or whether the science is too uncertain to make a reasoned decision.  Finally, after two years and much hand-wringing, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson issued her proposed finding that carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride may endanger public health or welfare.

In actuality, the EPA proposed two findings:  (1) an endangerment finding, that the six GHG endanger public health and welfare; and (2) a “cause and contribute finding” that the combined emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and hydrofluorocarbons from new motor vehicles and motor vehicle engines contribute to the atmospheric concentrations of these key greenhouse gases and hence add to the threat of climate change.

EPA characterizes its proposed Endangerment Finding as follows:

This is not a close case in which the magnitude of the harm is small and the probability great, or the magnitude large and the probability small. In both magnitude and probability, climate change is an enormous problem. The greenhouse gases that are responsible for it endanger public health and welfare within the meaning of the Clean Air Act.

The EPA, however, was careful to walk a fine line between complying with the dictates of Massachusetts and actually regulating GHG.  While this proposed rule does not actually regulate GHG,  it does propose defining greenhouse gases as “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. EPA proposes defining the six GHG as a single pollutant, rather the defining them individually – similar to the approach the EPA took with ozone years ago. EPA explained its decision as follows:

It is the Administrator’s judgment that this collective approach for the contribution test is most consistent with the treatment of greenhouse gases by those studying climate change science and policy, where it has become common practice to evaluate greenhouse gases on a collective CO2-equivalent basis

Although the EPA usually issues emission control standards concurrently with an endangerment finding, in this case, the EPA indicated that the emission standards would be issued “several months from now.”   This bifurcation of the normal process has been taken by observers to mean that these rules are meant to goad the Congress into action, rather than a serious proposal that EPA regulate GHG.  Indeed, the EPA’s Press Release on the Endangerment finding specifically stated that “[n]otwithstanding this required regulatory process, both President Obama and Administrator Jackson have repeatedly indicated their preference for comprehensive legislation to address this issue and create the framework for a clean energy economy.”

And Congressional leadership seems ready to oblige.  Rep. Edward Markey (D.Mass.), Chair of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, had this to say about the EPA’s Endangerment Ruling:

This decision is a game-changer. It is now no longer a choice between doing a bill or doing nothing. It is now a choice between regulation and legislation. EPA will have to act if Congress does not act.

Markey and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) have introduced the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) to set up a system for reducing emissions from all sources and creating a financial incentive for companies to stay within emission limits.   See, “U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Releases Draft Climate Change Act,” posted April 2, 2009.  Waxman wants to pass the bill from his Energy and Commerce Committee by the end of May, but its fate is uncertain in the Senate.

Aircraft and other aviation sources seem to have received a pass with respect to these regulations:

EPA has received a petition under the Act to consider the regulation of 64 aircraft emissions (water vapor and NOx) that lead to formation of contrails (in addition to aircraft greenhouse gas emissions), and EPA plans to evaluate this issue further. At this time, the Administrator is not proposing to include aircraft-related contrails or emissions that are not greenhouse gases within the definition of air pollution for purposes of section 202(a).

This does not mean, however, that once the emission control standards are promulgated (if they are promulgated), aviation sources will not also be regulated.  Likewise, the Waxman-Markey bill may affect aviation sources as well.

A 60-day comment period will follow publication of the proposed rule in Federal Register, which has not yet occurred.  There will be public hearings in Arlington, Virginia, and Seattle, Washington in May, 2009.   Click on Continue Reading at the bottom of this post for details about written comments and public hearings.

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Continue Reading EPA Finally Issues Endangerment Finding for Six Greenhouse Gases, Including Carbon Dioxide