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