Entries Tagged as 'EPA'

Republicans Are For Clean Air, Too

October 20th, 2011 at 5:30 pm 36 Comments

Many Republican officeholders and would-be officeholders are telegraphing to voters an either-or message: They can have more jobs or they can have cleaner air. But they can’t have both.

Rhetoric about closing down EPA and removing bureaucrats’ boots off industry’s throat, however, is more about drawing distinctions between Republicans and Democrats rather than taking reasoned positions that draw from empirical evidence.

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Colony Shale, The First Solyndra

September 29th, 2011 at 2:56 pm 22 Comments

Solyndra is a lesson in how the substitution of wishful thinking for green eyeshades can stimulate the growth of costly energy carbuncles that emit malodorous political fumes.

Today it is Solyndra. Yesterday it was Colony Shale.

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The EPA is Not Insane

September 29th, 2011 at 2:35 pm 18 Comments

The Obama White House is many things—flailing as it fishtails from an adult-in-the-room pose to screaming populism; cack-handed, as it both infuriates its base and loses independents; and passive to the point of paralysis, as Chris Christie pointed out in his Reagan Library speech.

The Obama White House, however, is not insane.

The Daily Caller’s breathtaking insistence, with a gratuitously crude reference to a TV wardrobe malfunction, that a what-if scenario painted in an EPA court brief (as an undesirable outcome) is a real proposal doesn’t have a whiff of plausibility.

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Bachmann’s Empty EPA Trash-Talk

September 6th, 2011 at 7:00 am 18 Comments

On a recent campaign stop in Florida, order Michele Bachmann waded into a political swamp by saying that she would drill in the Everglades if that “is where the energy is.” While she gave a cursory nod to drilling responsibly, here it’s clear she had no clue about the environmental or political consequences of what she was proposing.

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Businesses Demand More Regulation (Really!)

August 18th, 2011 at 5:35 pm 12 Comments

The prevailing narrative about regulation is that businesses want the Environmental Protection Agency to lighten up. So, why did five appliance manufacturers recently ask EPA to tighten rules involving air conditioners and ozone-depleting refrigerants?

Or, to put it another way, is the Obama administration undercutting Ronald Reagan’s signature environmental accomplishment through sloppy rule writing?

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Don’t Force Trial Courts To Do EPA’s Job

April 22nd, 2011 at 8:51 am 7 Comments

Things aren’t looking good for states and environmental organizations hoping to persuade the Supreme Court to uphold a lower court ruling that green-lighted a public nuisance claim against five utilities over their greenhouse gas emissions.

At oral arguments April 15, justices weighed a nuisance claim filed in 2004 by eight states – now six, since Wisconsin and New Jersey bailed – New York City, and three environmental organizations against five utilities with big coal appetites – American Electric Power, Duke Energy, the Southern Company, Xcel Energy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The liberal justices said EPA should deal with greenhouse gas emissions. In rather purple language, Elena Kagan declared that the emissions reduction remedy that the nuisance claim seeks is “the paradigmatic work of agencies.”

The conservative justices said opening courthouse doors to climate change nuisance claims would result in unmanageable cases. Samuel Alito wondered how a judge could balance the tradeoffs involved with limiting emissions and what standards judges would apply in the attempt. Antonin Scalia mused about suing every farmer who owns a flatulent cow.

Are greenhouse gas emissions a public nuisance? When they get to a point at which they’re altering the global climate system, you might say so. Carbon dioxide traps heat, a fact established in the 19th century. When you emit a heat trapping gas into the atmosphere, it will trap heat. When such gases are emitted faster than natural processes can scrub them out, the gases accumulate, like water rising in a bathtub with a faucet on full and a slow drain, resulting in an energy imbalance that can perturb the global climate system.

All manner of risky consequences follow – heat stress on crops, dwindling snow and ice fields that supply drinking water, rising sea levels that erode coastlines – that if left unaddressed, would alter the warp and woof of ecological processes that underpin global civilization.

The question, however, is whether nuisance litigation is the right way to fix the problem. Typically, nuisance claims involve conflicts that are discrete and local in scale.

It goes like this: a dirty mill makes the lives of nearby townsfolk miserable by wafting an evil stench out its exhaust stack. The town fathers allege a public nuisance and file a claim. The court considers a tort that has a clearly identifiable perpetrator, a distinct group of victims suffering injury, and a clear remedy. The jury finds that the mill’s stink is a public nuisance, and the court orders the mill to clean up its act. The mill complies, the stench goes away, and the case is closed.

Not so straightforward with climate change. Here, you have a tort in which both perpetrators and victims number in the millions. Perpetrators are also victims and vice versa; e.g. a coastal dweller whose home is threatened by rising seas also uses electricity and consumes fossil fuels. The consequences of the tort are global, and the remedy is nothing less than rethinking and redesigning the energy economy that makes modern life possible.

In their brief asking the high court to take their appeal, the sued utilities said that jurists adjudicating such claims would be “asked to design, enforce and (over time) modify a set of piecemeal regulatory decrees of great intricacy and enormous consequence for the nation’s energy supply and economic security (and for the international climate change negotiations in which the United States is presently engaged).”

As Chief Justice John Roberts observed, that’s a hell of a job to give a trial judge.

It’s an appropriate job for Congress, which could craft legislation that balances competing interests through a mix of emissions standards, cost mitigation provisions, compliance schedules, economic incentives, and technology R&D. Many in Congress, however, don’t like that idea, so there is little prospect of a climate bill for at least the next two years, and likely longer.

So, EPA is doing the imperfect next best thing of regulating emissions via its authority under the Clean Air Act. Many in Congress don’t like that either, and have proposed legislation that would decree scientific findings about climate change dangers to be null and void.

If Congress sniffs in withering disapproval at climate legislation and regulation, what’s left at the federal level is the impractical, unmanageable remedy of seeking abatement of greenhouse gas emissions through common law nuisance claims.

The direction of justices’ comments during oral arguments indicates that the Supreme Court will likely close that door.

The court will send the ball back to Congress and the EPA, which is where it belongs.

The Dems’ Climate Change Dodge

March 25th, 2011 at 3:10 pm 4 Comments

Leave it to the Democrats to come up with weasly alternatives to Senator James Inhofe’s bill that would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and repeal a scientific determination on which regulations would be based.

Instead of pushing back against the Inhofe bill by calling it what it is – a crass attempt to substitute a political agenda for science – the Democrats are likely to allow a Senate vote on two alternatives to Inhofe’s bill – Jay Rockefeller’s legislation to delay regulations for two years and Max Baucus’ amendment that would exempt agriculture and small industrial facilities from greenhouse gas emissions rules.

While Inhofe and others are hell-bent on swimming upstream against science and the laws of physics, cure Rocky and Baucus are simply content to dig up some cover for themselves and the other coal-state Democrats who fret that Mr. Peabody’s coal train will haul away their political careers.

Instead, remedy the weaving and dodging Democrats who purport to support the Clean Air Act should take the dose of calcium offered by former EPA Administrator Russell Train, whose March 16 letter to Senate leaders bluntly said, “Arguments that it should be left to Congress solely to decide how to regulate greenhouse gas pollutants ring hollow, since Congress has consistently failed to take meaningful action in spite of the clear scientific evidence of the dangers these pollutants pose.”

Further, Train continued, arguments that the Clean Air Act was not intended to regulate greenhouse gas emissions “misrepresent Congress’ original intentions in passing the act. Precisely because existing knowledge of air pollutants and their potential effects was so limited at the time, Congress did not enumerate the pollutants that should or should not be regulated under the Clean Air Act.” Instead, the term was defined broadly and discretion was left to EPA scientists to evaluate pollutants and determine whether regulation was necessary.

Train, who headed EPA during the Nixon and Ford years, was present at the Clean Air Act’s creation. He has no patience for the revisionist historical smog that the climate change denial crowd is spewing about the Clean Air Act, and neither should the law’s supporters in Congress.

Nuke Energy Support Still Strong

March 23rd, 2011 at 7:23 am 23 Comments

Opposition to expanded reliance on nuclear energy has edged upward among Americans, polling shows, since Tokyo Electric’s Fukushima Daiichi reactor complex started laying very large radioactive eggs following the mammoth earthquake and tsunami.

No surprise there. Dramatic, edge-of-your-seat events that command undivided public attention have a way of moving polling numbers.

What’s encouraging in a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll is that a significant majority of Americans – 57 to 42 percent – support nuclear energy. By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans support continued operation of all 104 commercial reactors in the U.S. nuclear fleet, which generates about 20 percent of the nation’s electricity.

The poll shows that public opposition to new nukes has moved up 6 points to 53 percent following the Japanese disaster, but CNN’s polling director indicated that Americans’ attitudes about nuclear energy are more positive than they were after the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island accidents.

That’s encouraging because a panicky stampede away from nukes would mean greater dependence on energy sources that have their own baggage.

Such as coal. While nuclear power conjures up scary fears among some about invisible death rays, nuclear power plants don’t kill people by the thousands year in and year out. Coal plants do. Burning coal emits sulfur dioxide (SOX) and nitrogen oxides (NOx), which are precursors of ultrafine particles that burrow deeply into people’s lungs, where they can impair pulmonary function, inflame lung tissues, and trigger heart attacks.

Coal pollution can be cleaned up. Unfortunately, politicians who have painted the Environmental Protection Agency as an ogre stomping across the land in search of jobs to destroy have made it politically incorrect to talk about the benefits of pollution regulation – such as the estimated 14,000 to 36,000 premature deaths that would be prevented by 2014 through EPA’s proposed “transport” rule affecting coal-fired power plants in 31 states east of the Rockies.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu once said that he’d rather live next to a nuke than a coal plant because the former have strong safety records and are cleaner than the latter. Smart choice. In the years ahead, nuclear power likely will be safer still as a result of new standards designed to minimize the chances of a Fukushima in the U.S.

Keeping a place for nuclear energy on America’s energy menu is critically important for keeping the air clean and the climate stable. That the public is still on board, in spite of the wrenching images from Japan and the breathless television coverage, is a good sign.