States vs. Feds on Global Warming

Today’s Washington Post summarizes an impending Clean Air Act case regarding the EPA’s authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

The Bush administration is defending its refusal to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new motor vehicles in the first case about global warming to reach the Supreme Court. The Environmental Protection Agency lacks the power to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, the administration said in court papers. Even if it had such authority, the EPA still would not use it at this point because of uncertainty surrounding the issue of global warming, the administration said.

The states’ petition contends:

. . . EPA refused to regulate carbon dioxide, despite overwhelming research and scientific consensus that carbon dioxide contributes to global warming and thus harms “public health and welfare.” EPA’s claim that it does not have the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions is contrary to the plain language of the Clean Air Act.

I’m not an attorney, let alone a specialist in environmental law, but the statue seems clear here. While carbon dioxide is a covered pollutant under the Act, it is not specified in the paragraph which relates to new motor vehicles, § 7521. Emission standards for new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines subsection, subparagraph (a) (3) (A) (i):

Unless the standard is changed as provided in subparagraph (B), regulations under paragraph (1) of this subsection applicable to emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter from classes or categories of heavy-duty vehicles or engines manufactured during or after model year 1983 shall contain standards which reflect the greatest degree of emission reduction achievable through the application of technology which the Administrator determines will be available for the model year to which such standards apply, giving appropriate consideration to cost, energy, and safety factors associated with the application of such technology.

The Supreme Court should, therefore, uphold the D.C. Circuit’s ruling siding with the administration in this dispute.

The broader question, though, as to whether the administration should be looking for solutions to limit carbon dioxide emission, is not so straightforward. The petitioners assert that,

A growing body of evidence, including reports from the National Academy of Sciences, NASA and major universities, has found that increasing global temperatures will have dramatic effects in the United States, including rising sea levels, worsened air quality, water shortages and droughts, and increased intensity of hurricanes. Power plants are the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions responsible for increasing temperatures worldwide. According to current projections, dozens or even hundreds of new coal-fired plants will be built in the United States over the next 15 years. Under the current rule, these plants would face no requirement to control or reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Since the power plants have a life span of 40-60 years, the plants built in the near future will determine the level of our carbon emissions for generations.

This certainly seems right. While there is debate as to the exact interaction of these variables as well as the degree to which changing human behavior will solve the problems, we should be able to agree that the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion is in one direction.

From both a public safety and practical political perspective, then, a Republican – conservative – libertarian right solution should be formulated that does not involve abject denial of that consensus. I propose some general principles.

1. Environmental regulation creates trade-offs. We mustn’t pretend, as some on the Left do, that actions taken to protect the environment are uniformly good. Changing mass economic behavior has consequences, many of which are not immediately foreseeable.

2. Man is the measure of all things. If it’s a contest between inconveniencing the snail darter and putting tens of thousands of Americans out of work, the snail darter loses. This has a corollary, however.

3. It’s our habitat, too. Those arguing from the Right sometimes forget that it’s not just snail darters, spotted owls, and other wildlife that benefit from a healthy environment. Clean air and clean water is something that Left and Right should be able to agree on; the question is how to best achieve that goal without side effects that are worse than the cure.

4. Market solutions are best but need help. Obviously, it would be silly to create regulations that would force tearing down perfectly good power plants or imposing new design standards on automobiles that are prohibitively expensive. We need to be able to produce electricity and transport ourselves, after all. And making it too costly for people to replace their existing cars with new ones means sacrificing the latest safety features, too.

On the other hand, new power plants are being built and it makes sense to build them using the cleanest economically feasible technology available. Tax credits and other governmental incentives toward that end are likely a worthwhile investment of public funds.

With auto emissions, it makes sense to couple clean emissions with fuel efficiency and, preferably, alternative forms of energy that reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil. There will likely be trade-offs here. Government should encourage cooperation in finding this new technology, perhaps including limited waivers of applicable anti-trust regulations and assistance in putting in place a new refueling infrastructure to make conversion feasible.

Crossposted at Terra Rossa

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Environment, Health, Law and the Courts, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Original post: States vs. Feds on Global Warming by at Google Blog Search: alternative health solution

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  3. Honza P says:

    How about this suggestion. That’s a political decision and the courts should stay out of it.

  4. Supreme Court Takes Up Global Warming…

    The Supreme Court stepped gingerly into the national debate over global warming, asking how much har…

  5. Triumph says:

    I propose some general principles.

    These principles read like they are from the debates that were happening in 1989.

    I would suggest taking a look at an introductory textbook on environmental policymaking to get up to speed. Zacharey Smith’s “Environmental Policy Paradox” (Prentice Hall, 2003) is a good place to start.

    1.Environmental regulation creates trade-offs. We mustn’t pretend, as some on the Left do, that actions taken to protect the environment are uniformly good

    All public policy choices involve trade-offs–balancing limitless needs with limited resources. Nobody with an understanding of public policy “on the left” would argue otherwise. This is a strawman argument. Take a look at Harold Laswell’s “THe Policy Orientation” (Stanford, 1951) for a primer on the field of public policy.

    2. Man is the measure of all things. If it’s a contest between inconveniencing the snail darter and putting tens of thousands of Americans out of work, the snail darter loses. This has a corollary, however.

    Once again–vintage 1980s argumentation. The main impetus of modern envrionmental regulation–which was initiated by Republicans, by the way–was anthropocentric. The simplistic “jobs vs. environment” logic you are parroting here has been rejected by most businesses. Habitat protection, climate change, EPA regulations are all based on these anthropocenntric notions.

    3. It’s our habitat, too. Those arguing from the Right sometimes forget that it’s not just snail darters, spotted owls, and other wildlife that benefit from a healthy environment.

    Other than lunatic dinasours like James Inhofe, most conservatives understand this. As I said above, Republicans were traditionally the biggest pushers for environmental regulation.

    4. Market solutions are best but need help.

    Once again, a no-brainer. Schemes like CO2 emissions trading and carbon taxes are designed to make sure that the market prices the true cost of pollutive activities.

  6. floyd says:

    does this mean EXHALE permits ; filled out in triplicate and filed in a compost heap for each breath??

  7. Cynthia says:

    With the exception of number two (because I don’t have a very high opinion of the value of the human animal), I think those are excellent general principles

  8. Tano says:

    Sorry, but I gotta agree with Triumph. These points reflect the debate of twenty years ago, and are filled with strawmen and over-simplifications.

    There are lots of things going on in the field of eco-friendly industry, or econmically-aware environmentalism. Efforts to bridge the competing concerns have been pursued for a long time.

    Just for one of many examples, check out the Rocky Mountain Institute. Lovins, their director, has a new book out on the oil economy and the profitable way out of it. Interesting stuff.

  9. RJN says:

    Triumph:

    Didn’t the carbon trading prices just tank?

  10. jpe says:

    Section a3Ai reads as inclusive, and doesn’t preclude action on other pollutants. The statute directs the EPA to regulate pollutants, and, when dealing with the specified pollutants to do X, Y, and Z.

  11. jpe says:

    That’s a political decision and the courts should stay out of it.

    It looks like there’s a strong case that the political branches already did answer the political question. If they don’t like the court’s interpretation in the unlikely event that the states prevail, then they go back and change the statute. Simple enough.

  12. RJN says:

    Climate of Fear
    Global-warming alarmists intimidate dissenting scientists into silence.
    BY RICHARD LINDZEN

    Wednesday, April 12, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

    “There have been repeated claims that this past year’s hurricane activity was another sign of human-induced climate change. Everything from the heat wave in Paris to heavy snows in Buffalo has been blamed on people burning gasoline to fuel their cars, and coal and natural gas to heat, cool and electrify their homes. Yet how can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of recent weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into unlikely claims about future catastrophes?……………….
    But there is a more sinister side to this feeding frenzy. Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis”

  13. Wickedpinto says:

    The great empire under cleon the first feared harvey seldons predictions.

    Seldon believed that the empire was in decay, not because the empire was decaying, but rather because the empire had stopped growing.

    If you play for a tie, you will always lose.

  14. LJD says:

    Nice to see Triumph and Tano racing to support James’ conclusions about the environmenatal left. I have noticed very recently, with some some students enrolled in my graduate Environmental Studies program, that many on the left EXPECT environmental legislation for its “inherent good”. When prices go up, their convenience level drops, or some resource becomes scarce, they’re rioting in the streets screaming about how they were screwed by the corporate machine.

    Same thing with a local mall development. They were screaming about saving wetlands, with very limited knowledge on the subject or the site, I might add. Where do you think they are doing their Christmas shopping this year? It seems they have accepted the trade-off.

    The answer to all of our problems are technnology incentives and a free market. We see it now in the auto industry, albeit a few years later than it could have been implememnted. We need to apply the same to our power plants.

  15. Bithead says:

    This certainly seems right. While there is debate as to the exact interaction of these variables as well as the degree to which changing human behavior will solve the problems, we should be able to agree that the overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion is in one direction.

    From both a public safety and practical political perspective, then, a Republican – conservative – libertarian right solution should be formulated that does not involve abject denial of that consensus.

    Why?

    isn’t this the same group of people who told us less than 30 years ago, that global cooling would be the problem?

    Wasn’t there a scientific consensus that bloodletting was the error for the ills of man?

    Wasn’t there is scientific consensus that the electricity was evil?

    That someone claims there’s a consensus, does not make it so. Further, even assuming there is a consensus, it doesn’t make accurate.

  16. James Joyner says:

    Wasn’t there a scientific consensus that bloodletting was the error for the ills of man?

    Wasn’t there is scientific consensus that the electricity was evil?

    No.

  17. Tano says:

    LJD,
    What on earth are you ranting about? Did you actually read what I wrote?

  18. LJD says:

    ‘I gotta agree with Triumph’ (and much of your other posts…) I think that was it.

    The ‘inherent good’ theory is alive and well in the lunatic left. Perhaps not with the more educated of the bunch, but they either have not been very vocal lately, or are tied up in political venom-spitting.

    Nobody with an understanding of public policy “on the left” would argue otherwise.

    Like who? I sense some denial in your rebuttal of James’ statement.

    The simplistic “jobs vs. environment” logic you are parroting here has been rejected by most businesses.

    Unless something has drastically changed, business does not throw away profits, or thumb their noses at losses. They weigh the full environmental cost against the cost of doing business. It does not ALWAYS balance, and choices are made. You cannot simply discount it because ‘people are trying new things’.

    Efforts to bridge the competing concerns have been pursued for a long time.

    There’s a big difference between ‘efforts’ and solutions. When it comes to making the hard choices, the average person 1. lacks the knowledge necessary to weigh the choice, and 2. is not willing to forgo their luxury for the benefit of the change.

    Other than that, I agree the RMI is doing some neat things. It’s a step in the right direction, but people need a big reality check. Environmental economics 101, and hard choices.

  19. Steven Plunk says:

    Consensus. That word means whatever the user wants it to mean in today’s scientific community, political community, in fact anywhere there is still disagreement on any topic someone will throw out the term “consensus” to stifle any further debate by claiming the the matter essentially settled.

    In this case it is not settled by a long shot and for many reasons. The most important reason is money. Many scientists push global warming to get money. Grant money, donations, speaking fees, it all comes rolling in when scientists “sex up” the latest fad.

    We have yet to have a full honest, open debate about man made global warming. Heck, the authors of the famous “hockey stick” projection will not even release all of the data and methodology used. How can we reach consensus in such an environment?

    As they say, a lie gets half way around the world before the truth puts it’s shoes on. A lot more discussion needs to take place before we do anything drastic.

  20. Bithead says:

    From both a public safety and practical political perspective, then, a Republican – conservative – libertarian right solution should be formulated that does not involve abject denial of that consensus.

    Why?
    To say I’m skeptical of compromising with these inDUHviduals, is understating it by a factor of 40.

    Look, perhaps a history lesson is in order, here:

    Wasn’t it scientists are told us that bloodletting was the order of the day for the sick?

    Are these the same scientists who told us twenty and thirty years ago the global cooling was going to be the problem?

    Are these the same scientists who told us:

    “For the 2006 north Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA is predicting 13 to 16 named storms, with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which four to six could become ‘major’ hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher,”

    Just in case you’re not keeping track, we had one… count it, ONE…(Need a hint, count your nose) category three and a couple (As in count your nostrils… those are the holes in your nose..) of category two storms… none of which got any closer than 800 miles from our shores.

    We had only two minor named storms hitting any U.S. land out of a total of nine names storms versus the thirteen to sixteen predicted on the 4 to 6 major storms predicted.

    Apparently, because there is a ‘scientific consensus ‘ doesn’t mean they’re right.

    And we’re supposed to take these predictions for 50 years into the future, and make compromises with them that will damage our economy and our financial standing in the world, why again? On, perhaps the mere CHANCE that they could eventually get one RIGHT?

    Sorry, James, I know you’ve got server warming issues, today… but this one’s well beyond the pale.

  21. RJN says:

    Sunspots reaching 1,000-year high By Dr. David Whitehouse BBC News Online science editor “The Sun is more active now than it has been at anytime in the previous 1,000 years. Scientists based at the Institute for Astronomy in Zurich used ice cores from Greenland to construct a picture of our star’s activity in the past. They say that over the last century the number of sunspots rose at the same time that the Earth’s climate became steadily warmer.”

  22. Bithead says:

    We know that there have been similar temp increases on Mars. Of course, the SUV is to blame for this, as well.

    Oh, James.. while I have the editor open, nice to see you back online.

  23. […] I must say, James Joyner disappointed me this morning. I admit, I came down on him pretty hard… and particularly hard for someone I so often agree with on most matters… Perhaps overly so, but bless it all, why on earth would someone with a capacity of at least two brain cells capitulate to these people, as he does here? […]