If West Virginia succeeds in killing the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations on carbon pollution from coal plants, citizens nationwide will experience more respiratory problems, increased heat-related deaths, and damage to coastal property, according to a legal brief filed by New York’s attorney general on Tuesday.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to let it and 11 other states intervene in West Virginia’s lawsuit, which says the EPA is not legally allowed under the Clean Air Act to put limits on carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants. In the notice of intervention, Schneiderman said residents of New York and the 11 other states would be harmed if the EPA didn’t take immediate action to combat climate change by regulating one of the country’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
“Power plants that generate electricity from coal, oil, and natural gas are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States,” Schneiderman’s office said in an accompanying statement. “Left unchecked, climate change — spurred by greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other sources — threatens public health, safety, the environment, and our economy.”
West Virginia’s lawsuit was originally filed in August by state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who was joined by 11 more states in opposing the regulations. In that lawsuit, the states — all of which are either large producers or consumers of coal — specifically challenge the legality of a 2011 settlement the U.S. government entered into with the New York-led group of states, in which the EPA promised to regulate carbon.
The West Virginia-led group argued that the EPA was never allowed to make that promise, because the agency already regulates general air pollution from coal plants under the Clean Air Act. Therefore, the lawsuit said, the EPA carbon rules “impose impermissible double regulation.”
The Supreme Court has already affirmed numerous times that the EPA is allowed to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. In Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007, the high court ruled specifically that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions could be considered “air pollutants” under the Act, and that the U.S. government had authority to curb them. In July, the Supreme Court effectively affirmed 7 to 2 that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources, like coal plants.
New York hasn’t yet laid out its legal argument for why West Virginia’s lawsuit should be dismissed. The Tuesday filing merely asks the court if New York and the 11 other states — which include California, Maine, New Mexico, and Vermont — can intervene.
What the filing does say is that West Virginia’s lawsuit, if successful, would aid in the spread of climate change by allowing unlimited carbon emissions from coal plants. Unmitigated climate change would harm citizens by contributing to prolonged heat waves that would cause more heat-related deaths; increased ground-level smog that would cause asthma and other respiratory problems; salinization of water supplies from accelerated sea level rise; beach erosion and damage to coastal property; and more frequent flooding, among other things.
Regulating carbon emissions from coal plants will be the most significant thing America has ever done to combat climate change. The electricity sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions here, and dropping those 25 percent in 6 years amounts to a reduction of roughly 300 million tons of CO2 each year.
The states opposing EPA’s regulations with West Virginia are Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wyoming. The states asking the court to uphold the regulations along with New York are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.