While harm from climate change becomes more apparent every day, EPA is dragging its feet in setting much-needed limitations on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. This failure is a plain violation of the Clean Air Act. So CLF recently took the first step to spur EPA into action. Working with attorneys at Clean Air Task Force, we let EPA know that if it does not act, we will sue.
The Clean Air Act requires EPA to issue regulations limiting emissions of air pollutants that may “endanger public health or welfare.” We know well that greenhouse gases drive climate change and therefore endanger public health and welfare in many ways: droughts pose risks to our food supply; sea level rise increases flooding of vulnerable communities; and extreme weather events threaten to wash coastal infrastructure out to sea. Nevertheless, during the early and mid-2000s, EPA all but ignored greenhouse gases. Many states and environmental groups (including CLF) sued to make EPA do something.
First, we argued, greenhouse gases are air pollutants subject to EPA regulation. Second, we said, EPA had to decide one way or the other whether greenhouse gases were dangerous; if so, the Clean Air Act imposes an absolute duty on EPA to regulate them. In a fine opinion by now-retired Justice Stevens, the Supreme Court agreed with us: greenhouse gases are pollutants subject to EPA regulation, and EPA had to decide whether they are dangerous. Two years later, EPA decided that greenhouse gases do, in fact, pose a danger to public health. This means EPA is required by law to regulate them.
After all that, EPA did begin to regulate greenhouse gases. However, it did not limit emissions from the single largest category of greenhouse gas polluters – power plants – which account for nearly 40% of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. If any polluters need robust regulation, power plants do. Finally, after more pushing from CLF and other environmental organizations, EPA published proposed standards for greenhouse gas emissions by power plants.
Under the Clean Air Act, these proposed standards started a clock – EPA had one year to issue final rules. Instead, EPA announced on Day 364 that the final rules would be delayed indefinitely. This delay is both illegal and wrong. EPA now has sixty days to fix its error and issue final rules that seriously address the most pressing problem of our time.
If it does not, CLF and Clean Air Task Force will turn to federal court to compel EPA to act.