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

In National Association of Homebuilders, et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, et al., 2011 W.L. 6118589 (December 9, 2011) (“Homebuilders”) the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has raised the bar for Article III standing in actions involving private petitioners or appellants. While recent years have seen a loosening of the standing requirements for states (see, e.g., Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 U.S. 497, 518 (2007) [“This is a suit by a state for an injury to it in its capacity of quasi-sovereign. In that capacity the state has an interest independent of and behind the titles of its citizens, and all the earth and air within its domain”], and municipalities (see, e.g., City of Olmsted Falls v. FAA, 292 F.3d 261, 268 (2002) [“In this Circuit we have found standing for a city suing an arm of the Federal government when a harm to the City itself has been alleged” [emphasis added]], Homebuilders represents an escalation of the existing standing restrictions for individuals and organizations that represent them.

Article III of the United States Constitution “limits Federal Court jurisdiction to ‘cases’ and ‘controversies.’ Those two words confine ‘the business of Federal Courts to questions represented in an adversary context and in a forum historically viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process.’” Massachusetts, supra, 549 U.S. at 515, quoting Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 95 (1968). In order to establish Article III standing, “a litigant must demonstrate that it has suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is either actual or imminent, that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant, and that it is likely that a favorable decision will redress that injury.” Massachusetts, supra, 549 U.S. at 517. In Homebuilders, the National Association of Homebuilders (“NAHB”), which represents a variety of individual developers, brought suit challenging the determination by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) and United States Army Corps of Engineers (“ACOE”) that certain reaches of the Santa Cruz River in Arizona constitute “Traditional Navigable Waters” (“TNW”), thus subjecting those reaches to Federal regulation. The Court in Homebuilders rejected NAHB’s attempts to fit under the umbrellas of organizational, representational or procedural standing on the following grounds.
 

Continue Reading The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Reconfirms the Bar of Standing in the Federal Courts

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