When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued its final finding that emission of six greenhouse gases endangered the public’s health and the environment because of their effect on climate change, the business community wondered how it should respond to the news.  At first glance, there seems to be blinding maze of legal and policy issues that will affect business decisions.  Although far from clear, there is a way out of the maze – although businesses with significant greenhouse gas emissions should be prepared to tackle the important issues that the Endangerment Finding raises.

Businesses Need to Take a Deep Breath (Irony Intended)

The road to the endangerment finding began in 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Massachusetts v. EPA that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases constituted “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act.  To most savvy businessmen this was a clear signal to start planning how their businesses would cope with the establishment of limits on emission of greenhouse gases.  Although the Bush Administration EPA successfully sat on the issue, when the Obama Administration took office, most companies recognized that an endangerment finding would top the EPA’s list of major environmental actions.  Thus, EPA’s announcement this past April of its proposed finding and its announcement of the final endangerment finding should have come as no surprise to anyone who has been monitoring this issue.

The key thing for businesses to remember is that the endangerment finding by itself does not regulate the emission of greenhouse gases from any source, large or small.  That being said, it does have a direct impact on mobile sources (because of section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act), with the EPA planning on issuing its final “light-duty vehicle” greenhouse gas emissions rule some time in Spring 2010.


Continue Reading What Does EPA’s Finding that Greenhouse Gas Emissions Endanger Public Health and the Environment Mean to Business?

On Day Three of the Waxman-Markey Bill (also known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act) hearings, perhaps the best place to begin is with Rep. Edward Markey’s (D-Mass) closing remarks, where he asked the panelists "do you think we can construct a cap-and-trade system?"  All of the panelists replied in the affirmative.  This session, without the Administration headliners of yesterday and the Pop culture icons that are scheduled for tomorrow (Al Gore and Newt Gingrich), was noticeably less on point and more meandering.  There were, however, several central themes:  cap-and-trade, Carbon Capture and Storage, and renewable energy.

Cap-and-trade

Although this topic was discussed extensively yesterday, the first panel consisted of representatives of various utility groups and consumer groups.  The electric utilities all seemed to want the same thing:  free allowances instead of having to pay for them at auctions.  They claim that this will allow the utilities to keep their prices down.  There is no surprise there.  The only interesting quote from a Congressman came, once from Rep. Joe Barton (R. Texas), who told the witnesses that "hybrid cars never pay off and American won’t drive them unless forced by the government, backed by the Army."  How dead was it in the Committee room?  One report indicated that "the Chairman is reading a paper and only about 3 Reps are paying attention to these guys begging for handouts."

Carbon Capture and Storage/Clean Coal

During the hearings there has been talk about "Carbon Capture and Storage."  Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is an approach to mitigating the contribution of fossil fuel emissions to global warming, based on capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from large point sources such as fossil fuel power plants and storing it away from the atmosphere.  The utilities and the coal industry believe that CCS is the way to go because it will allow them to go on using coal without producing CO2.  However, the technology is not there yet, and there is a fear that the development of CCS would draw needed dollars away from the development of other sources of energy.  Interestingly, David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council stated that CCS can happen if it has adequate policy support.

Renewable Energy

On the other hand you have the advocates for "renewable energy."  Although most people think of solar and wind power when they think of renewable energy, there are other sources.  Geothermal energy is one such source.  Dan Reicher of Google (yes, that Google) testified that "engineered geothermal energy potential in Texas could provide 100% of Texas’ electricity needs."  Supporters of renewable energy also came from unlikely sources, Jim Robo, President and COO of Florida Power & Light told the Committee that "we’ve barely begun to tap renewable energy . . . Unchecked climate change will cost us tens of billions of dollars."  This thinking leads to the Waxman-Markey Bill’s call for a goal to be set that a certain percentage of energy be from renewable sources.  This has also led to various Representatives to call for the definition of renewable energy to include nuclear energy, biomass, and "clean coal."

In the end, there was a chorus among the last panel, calling for a strong legislation to deal with climate change and energy.   One can hope that the last day of the hearings, with some heavy hitters taking the witness chair, the questioning will be a little more interesting.

Click on "continue reading" for a complete Witness List with links to the witnesses written testimony and links to the video of the Hearing.

Continue Reading Day Three of Waxman-Markey Bill Hearings: No Headliners, Just Lots of Talk

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.

Previous posts on this subject:


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