Entries tagged with “EPA”.


. . . a colleague in Senator Menendez’s office passed along one of their recently-introduced bills “To establish a program under which the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency shall provide grants to eligible State consortia to establish and carry out municipal sustainability certification programs” (S.3970).  In effect, the bill directs the EPA to fund the development of state-level sustainability certification programs that include local governments, a state, at least one public university and other organizations, such as NGOs or private sector entities.

So who cares?  The point here is that Senator Menendez’s bill recognizes that challenges such as water supply, energy demand and pollution are “regionally distinct”, and therefore addressing these challenges requires engagement with local and state governments (as opposed to a blanket solution at the national or global level) is a productive way forward.  In other words, this is a legislative effort to promote the Adapting Mosaic scenario I discussed in a recent posts . . . and a welcome demonstration of senatorial competence.

Now, let’s see if it ever emerges from the Committee on Environment and Public Works, which is likely to be chaired in the new session by (gulp) Senator Inhofe.  He of the climate bailout garbage.  Yeah, this is going nowhere.  Dammit.

Update (7 December)

Ah, crap, Hugh quite rightly points out that the Senate still belongs to the Dems, so at least Inhofe won’t be able to kill this right out of the gate.  Man, I am being sucked into the “Republicans own everything” mentality around here . . . when in fact they own one house in Congress.

A while back, I put up a post about how the US failure to pass climate legislation is screwing up the entire process at the global level.  While the Chinese are enormously problematic, and the Indians are not much better, our domestic political scene’s inability to come to any sort of agreement on anything that might look like a climate bill makes us the single biggest obstacle to addressing emissions productively.  What most people do not understand is that legislation is not the only way to control emissions here in the US.  In 2007 the Supreme Court held that the Environmental Protection Agency not only could, but indeed had to treat greenhouse gas emissions as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.  Thus, we can control emissions via the regulations put forth by an agency of the executive branch, effectively cutting Congress out of the loop (unless they want to revoke or amend the Clean Air Act, and nobody seems to have the votes for that).  Hey, that is what the Court said, and what the Court says is the law until Congress rewrites things or the Court reverses itself.

So when people start arguing that the EPA’s impending move to actually come into compliance with the law is something “dangerous”, “activist” or “unwarranted”, they are hoping that the reader/listener/viewer doesn’t know the history or legal background of the issue – and they would often be right.  Certainly, that is the tactic of Mackubin Thomas Owens at the Washington Times, who in a recent Op-ed ignored this case, calling the possibility of controlling emissions through regulations a “ploy” and a “naked power grab by the EPA.” So, let’s review, shall we?

I have no doubt that this is a tactical effort on the part of the Obama administration to force some of those blocking real climate legislation to come to the table and negotiate something they can live with.  However, I don’t think the term “ploy” applies here – this is not an effort by the executive to do some backroom deal, such as consolidating power executive power at the expense of the other branches (for studies in that, see the Nixon and Bush 43 presidencies).  The president and his people surely know that regulation is a much weaker form of emissions control than is legislation.  One need only read the Washington Times Op-ed to see why, as they argue “a constitutional perspective suggests that Congress, not unelected bureaucrats, should be setting U.S. policy.”  Even with the backing of the court, it is much easier to argue against regulations (however legally empowered) created by the bureaucracy than it is to argue against a law passed by a majority (or, in the case of the Senate, a supermajority) of both houses and signed by the president.  Let’s also remember that the rest of the world is watching us to see what we do – and likely will build off of our domestic legislation for any global agreement (to ensure we participate).  Domestic regulation, especially if it is contested, will never work as a similar foundation, and it is entirely likely that the Senate would not ratify any agreement predicated on that regulation (2/3 of the Senate must vote to ratify).  If we want a global deal that even beings to address our problems, then the EPA must be an intermediate step toward binding legislation.

Now, do agencies grab for power when they can?  Of course they do.  But in this case, the EPA laid back until the Supreme Court told them, in effect, they had the right to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.  In fact, one could argue that once the Court placed greenhouse gases under the purview of the Clean Air Act, the EPA had no choice but to move toward regulating emissions lest it fall out of compliance with federal law.  After all, the court found:

“EPA has offered no reasoned explanation for its refusal to decide whether greenhouse gases cause or contribute to climate change,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority. The agency “identifies nothing suggesting that Congress meant to curtail EPA’s power to treat greenhouse gases as air pollutants”. . . The court majority said that the EPA clearly had the authority to regulate the emissions and that its “laundry list” of reasons for not doing so were not based in the law. (via Washington Post)

This is how politics, policy and the global environment intersect, folks – turns out those civics courses were a lot more important than we realized at the time, huh?

There is much flutter around Senate Democrats’ recent decision to give up on the Energy Bill that might have brought about a cap-and-trade system here in the US.

From the NYTimes:

Senate Democrats on Tuesday abandoned all hopes of passing even a slimmed-down energy bill before they adjourn for the summer recess, saying that they did not have sufficient votes even for legislation tailored narrowly to respond to the Gulf oil spill.

Although the majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, sought to blame Republicans for sinking the energy measure, the reality is that Democrats are also divided over how to proceed on the issue and had long ago given up hope of a comprehensive bill to address climate change.

There will be a lot of analysis of the biophysical impact of our continuing inability to act on the twinned issues of climate change and energy in the coming days, I am sure.  But, early in the morning, I want to quickly point out the cascading disaster this will cause in the environment and development policy world.  What most people don’t understand about the Copenhagen meetings, which ended in such confusion without a clear agreement, is that most of the key actors decided that it would be best to wait and see what the US managed to pass for its own internal purposes, and then try to work to that to ensure that the US joined the next major global climate agreement (remember, we never did sign Kyoto).  Copenhagen wasn’t really a failure the way many people thought – indeed, had they plowed ahead with an agreement in absence of American climate and energy legislation, they would have set the stage for Kyoto II – where the US, once again, refused to sign on to standards that it had not already agreed to.

I have found exactly one piece of good coverage of this issue, via Lisa Friedman of ClimateWire: “Overseas Frustration Grows Over U.S. Domestic Impasse on Climate Policy”.  The article nicely captures what is truly at stake here:

“Why is it that for the last 20 years the United States is unable to have a bill on climate change? What’s happening? What’s going on? It’s very complicated to understand,” said Brice Lalonde, France’s top negotiator.

“For a lot of us, we cannot wait for the United States. We have to go on. It’s like Kyoto,; we just go on” Lalonde said, referring to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol treaty that the U.S. joined but never ratified, leaving European countries to largely carry the weight of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Added Pa Ousman Jarju, lead negotiator for the small West African nation of Gambia, “We cannot rely on the U.S., because everything the U.S. is supposed to do depends on domestic policy. So we’re not going to get anything from the U.S. in terms of tangible commitment.”

He charged that the international community is “no longer hopeful” that America, the world’s biggest historic emitter of global warming pollution, will ever pass a bill to cut emissions. That, he said, leaves the global community with two options: “Either the rest of the world continues to do what they were doing before, or the whole multilateral system will collapse.”

What we were doing before was not good enough.  I am not all that sure that the net outcome of business as usual is all that different from a complete collapse of the environmental component of the multilateral system as we understand it.  The US simply has to be on board, or this is all for naught.  UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres put it this way:

“Whether the United States meets the pledge that it put on the Copenhagen Accord via legislation or whether it meets it via regulation is an internal domestic affair of the United States and one that they need to solve,” she said. “What is clear is that at an international level the United States needs to participate in a a meaningful way, and in a way that is commensurate with its responsibility.”

Credit to her for saying this clearly, and for suggesting that content (getting some sort of formal controls on emissions in place, whether through regulation or legislation) is a lot more important than form (insisting that everyone pass legislation to somehow bolster the legitimacy of these efforts).  Now, let’s see if the Obama Administration is willing to really use the newly-empowered EPA as a blunt object in the fight to control greenhouse gas emissions – at this point, I see no other way forward for the US.  Which means no other meaningful way forward for the rest of the world.