For 2 years industry officials, states, and environmentalists have had 2 January 2011 circled on their calendars. That’s the date greenhouse gases officially become regulated pollutants under the Clean Air Act””a direct result of a 2007 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under that law. The Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to control greenhouse emissions will only get more controversial as myriad lawsuits challenge the regime and Republicans, now ascendant in the House of Representatives, seek to stop EPA in its tracks.
A short primer follows, including some explanation of jargon you’ll no doubt hear regularly in the coming years….
Two things begin on Sunday, for the two main regulated sources of greenhouse gas pollution. One involves cars and light trucks, which are responsible for about one-fifth of U.S. heat-trapping emissions. The rules apply to 2012 model vehicles, which can be sold starting Sunday. They must now follow toughened CAFE fuel efficiency standards laid out in May. With industry on board””though there’s some grumbling””these steps are relatively uncontroversial.
The more divisive efforts are for regulating power plants, refineries, and big factories which emit greenhouse gases. Starting Sunday, new facilities require a permit if they are expected to emit 100,000 tons of CO2 (or equivalent greenhouse gas) a year. Existing plants that emit 100,000 or more tons will need a permit in July; starting Sunday existing plants will need permits if they plan to add 75,000 tons of new capacity.
State regulators, with oversight from EPA, serve to enforce the Clean Air Act for all polluters within their borders. In November, EPA released draft “guidance” for states in setting up their regulations for stationary big emitters. The guidance includes a mix of three strategies to cut pollution: using technology to make plants more efficient, switching to more efficient sources of energy (in most cases, from coal to natural gas), or capturing greenhouse gas emissions and storing them underground. (For coal plants, it’s dubbed “Carbon Capture and Storage.”)
In general, EPA requires states to describe how they intend to regulate air pollution. For greenhouse gases, all but eight states have submitted such an implementation plan. Seven say they need more time (some states have until December 2011), while Texas officials say they will not cooperate. One set of draft rules released last week provides a way for the federal government to step in and regulate plants in the meantime.
The other set of rules released govern the program for states that are on board with the new regime. These include a framework for the two main kinds of Clean Air Act permits that facilities need. Those are operating permits, known as “Title V permits,” and permits to modify or build new plants, called “Prevention of Significant Deterioration” permits. Final rules for each are due by May 2012 for power plants and by November 2012 for oil refineries.
But those dates could change””or the deadlines extended indefinitely if Congress decides to intervene. Legal efforts, which ScienceInsider will tackle tomorrow, could also throw a monkey wrench in the works.
Part II: Lawsuits [from ScienceInsider, by Eli Kintisch]
… A number of suits challenge the nascent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effort to reduce greenhouse emissions, but the agency has actually been prodded into action by lawyers from states and environmental groups from the other side. The current effort to regulate carbon dioxide, in fact, stemmed from a 1999 suit originally filed by liberal groups against EPA, which eventually led to a Supreme Court decision that EPA had to act since greenhouse gases fell under the purview of the Clean Air Act. Critics of the EPA’s efforts, including the powerful future House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-MI), say EPA is engaging in a “power grab.” But the president says they’re just following the law: “The EPA is under a court order that says greenhouse gases are a pollutant that fall under their jurisdiction,” Barack Obama said after he declared legislation on cap and trade dead in the water in the wake of the elections.
Now Obama has turned from pushing cap and trade to “cap no trade” as one critic called it. And the lawsuits are piling up. Most would seek to stop the federal effort, though some put new pressure on EPA or the polluters themselves to stem emissions.
First there are the suits to shut down the EPA’s budding regime.
EPA’s efforts rest on three pillars. Last year the agency finalized an official “endangerment finding” declaring that greenhouse gasses endanger public health or welfare. Then they set up rules to regulate those emissions from cars. Following that they proposed rules to define which sizes of existing or new industrial facilities required regulation, and when.
All three elements are at issue in one mega-case being litigated in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. That case, called Coalition for Responsible Regulation Inc. et al. v. EPA, combines 16 lawsuits which have all been appealed from federal district courts. Two weeks ago, EPA fended off an effort by the litigants to receive a legal “injunction” which would have temporarily blocked EPA from moving forward on the whole program. Sixteen states have weighed in on the side of EPA,, 14 oppose it; enviros are mostly allied with the Obama Administration while a wide variety of pro-business or right-leaning groups side with industry. Briefs on the case, which the judges will hear in parts corresponding to the three pillars, are due some time this spring.
Meanwhile, as ScienceInsider wrote yesterday, Texas has resisted efforts by EPA to either oversee the state’s own regulation of CO2, or step in itself to do so. Earlier this month a court rejected the state’s request to block the EPA’s instruction to state regulators to set up greenhouse gas regulationss. (“Recognizing the proper role of the States, the Clean Air Act declares pollution prevention to be ‘the primary responsibility of States and local governments,’ ” Texas had argued.) Now the state says that new or modified facilities will face a defacto moratorium because they won’t be able to get a permit. EPA says that if the state were to cooperate it could offer those permits. “EPA is offering Texas a life-preserver and, bizarrely, Texas is treating it like a torpedo,” David Doniger of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C., said in a blog entry.
Some cases working their way through the courts could engender new ways to cut emissions. In December, the Supreme Court agreed to take a case in which states and allied land trust organizations have charged that greenhouse gases emitted by a few big power companies constitute a “nuisance” under common law. (Briefs for American Electric Power v. Connecticut, which consolidates three similar lawsuits, are due in late January). Were the court to rule that pollutants did constitute a nuisance, it could give emitters’ opponents a tool apart from the Clean Air Act to tackle greenhouse gases.
But that seems unlikely. Because U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat on an appeals court which heard one of the lawsuits, she will likely recuse herself, leaving the real possibility that the case will receive a 4-4 decision. That would send it back to the appeals level where courts have ruled on the side of the states. But it’s unclear whether the case would get a review from all three appeals courts, which could lower the chances that the “nuisance” tool could come into use. (Plus there’s the fact that the Obama Administration has not sided with the foes of industry as one might expect. Instead it has asked the Supreme Court to send the case back to the appellate court so that it can be reconsidered in light of the new greenhouse gas regulatory regime.)
It’s worth noting that some power companies are not only staying out of court but defending the EPA regime. Earlier this month, west coast utility Pacific Gas and Electric and seven other big power companies wrote in support of the new rules:
The electric sector has known that these rules were coming. Many companies, including ours, have already invested in modern air-pollution control technologies and cleaner and more efficient power plants. For over a decade, companies have recognized that the industry would need to install controls to comply with the act’s air toxicity requirements, and the technology exists to cost effectively control such emissions, including mercury and acid gases. The EPA is now under a court deadline to finalize that rule before the end of 2011 because of the previous delays.
To suggest that plants are retiring because of the EPA’s regulations fails to recognize that lower power prices and depressed demand are the primary retirement drivers. The units retiring are generally small, old and inefficient. These retirements are long overdue.
The past 12 months saw the most instances of extreme weather in a decade, China’s meteorological authority said on Thursday.
The number of extreme weather events in China has been increasing since 2000. These include extremely high and low temperatures, rainstorms and typhoons.
The country witnessed the most number of such events and suffered the most serious consequences in 2010, China Meteorological Administration (CMA) said at a news conference on Thursday.
This summer, the average highest temperature across China was the highest since 1961, with an average 9.7 days with the highest temperature at or above 35 C, 3.5 days more than in previous years.
Extreme rainstorms followed the hot weather. Ninety-seven weather stations around China reported record-breaking daily rainfall, and 133 stations broke their annual records. Only seven record-breaking daily rainfall figures were reported from 2000 to 2009.
Moreover, more than half of the tropical hurricanes formed typhoons and hit coastal regions in East and South China, marking the highest landfall ratio in history.
“In the past 12 months, we experienced extreme weather more often than in any other year in the past decade. And global warming was largely to blame,” said Chen Zhenlin, director of the emergency response, disaster mitigation and public services department under the CMA.
“The common point of these extreme weather events was their close connection to rain, which results from climate change”.
Extreme weather events have been occurring more often worldwide since the 1950s, and have increased rapidly in the past four decades.
In 2010 exceptional droughts took place in a wide area from North Africa, across the Indian subcontinent to Southwest China and even Australia.
This year South China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Southwest China’s Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces and Chongqing municipality suffered the most severe drought in 100 years. And in North China’s Shanxi province and East China’s Anhui province, a new round of drought started in September and has not abated.