Obama's Climate Change Agenda Faces Supreme Court Hearing
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
By Vickie Patton
Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in a case challenging EPA’s interpretation that the Clean Air Act permit program requiring new and rebuilt industrial sources to deploy leading pollution control technology for each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act applies to greenhouse gases, just as these requirements have limited other airborne contaminants for over three decades.
This case is remarkable for what is not at stake, as well as for what is.
While the Supreme Court is considering only a single legal question of the numerous issues that were raised, this case has important implications.
Exempting climate pollution from these specific provisions of the Clean Air Act would harm innovation, because they were carefully designed by Congress to spur the development of new pollution prevention and control techniques for industrial sources. Putting a stop to these legislatively-crafted incentives to innovation in precisely the area where we so urgently need innovation—in addressing climate-destabilizing pollution—would be a damaging loss and risks “locking in” new high emitting and long lived industrial infrastructure. Such an exemption for climate pollution is patently contrary to Congress’s specific command, in the statutory provisions at issue here, that these innovation-spurring requirements apply to “each pollutant subject to regulation under the Act”.
Climate obstructionists will undoubtedly twist the meaning of the case to suggest broader implications, despite the court's decision to review only one narrow question. While the Administration is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the Clean Air Act to address climate pollution—in accordance with the authority that was twice affirmed by the United States Supreme Court—climate obstructionists will use this case to sow havoc and attack the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Indeed, these forces have already attacked EPA by unsuccessfully litigating virtually every aspect of EPA’s first generation climate protections in court over a span of many years. Unfortunately, they will continue to attack EPA in the public square invoking the polarizing rhetoric that most Americans associate with divisive Beltway politics—not real world solutions.
What is not at stake in this case is the EPA’s determination that six greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride—endanger the health and welfare of current and future generations. This is the bedrock for EPA’s manifest authority to adopt climate protections for cleaner cars and cleaner freight trucks, for reducing the potent methane leaked and vented from oil and gas development activities in the same way that Colorado has adopted methane emissions standards, and for cutting the massive carbon pollution from power plants—the nation’s single largest source of carbon pollution and one of the largest in the world.
The history behind the case
For the past four years, big polluters and litigants such as the Attorney General of Texas have been suing the EPA over all aspects of its climate protections for America—including the science-based endangerment finding, and the historic Clean Cars Standards that are saving Americans money at the gas pump while strengthening our nation’s energy security and reducing pollution. By contrast, the U.S. Automakers have consistently supported the clean car standards.
These dozens of lawsuits were considered together by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—which upheld EPA’s climate protections and rejected the legal challenges. In 2012, a three Judge panel of that court held that EPA’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act was “unambiguously correct.” Then-Chief Judge David Sentelle, appointed to the Court by President Ronald Regan, was a member of the three Judge panel that unanimously affirmed EPA’s action.
Opponents filed numerous petitions seeking review by the Supreme Court, which refused to entertain most of their challenges.
Instead, the Court granted review of a single question – whether, under the terms of the Clean Air Act, EPA’s regulation of climate pollution from cars triggered the requirement for pre-construction permits limiting the climate pollution discharged by large, new and rebuilt industrial sources of that pollution in the same way these requirements have applied to other air pollutants from these sources for over 35 years.
We need all available safeguards under the Clean Air Act to address the urgent challenge of climate change—including the advanced pollution control measures required as an essential protection in construction permits for large industrial sources. These measures are vital if we hope to minimize industrial climate pollution.
Further, one of the principal legal theories being advanced by petitioners would have adverse consequences for EPA’s long-standing interpretation of the law – spanning the Presidencies of Ronald Regan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush—that has expansively applied the protections of the Clean Air Act’s pre-construction review permit program to all regulated air pollutants. This line of attack, designed to narrow the air pollutants subject to these limits, would call into question the application of the program to pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide, fluorides and sulfuric acid mist.
Finally, we need to tell the truth to the public, to policymakers and to the highest Court in the land that EPA is judiciously carrying out its responsibilities under the nation’s clean air laws to protect human health and the environment from climate pollution. We must take a stand against the sharply polarizing rhetorical excess leveled at EPA. For the real world solutions that have won far-reaching support, look no further than the cleaner cars on the road today that are strengthening our energy security, saving families hard earned money at the gas pump, and cutting carbon pollution.
The Environmental Defense Fund is a party to the case before the Supreme Court and participated in the presentation of oral arguments when the case was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Patton is the organization’s general counsel and manages the organization's national and regional clean air programs.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Yet another former Trump administration staffer has come out with an endorsement for former Vice President Joe Biden, this time in response to President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- Trump Orders Hospitals to Stop Sending COVID-19 Data to CDC ... ›
- Two White House Staffers Test Positive for Coronavirus - EcoWatch ›
- Trump Admin to Disband Coronavirus Task Force - EcoWatch ›
- Pence Offers 'Prayers' as Hurricane Laura Hits Gulf Coast While ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.
- Covering the 2020 Elections as a Climate Story - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Delays 2020 Earth Overshoot Day by Three Weeks ... ›
By Elliot Douglas
The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.
- German Business Leaders Call for Climate Action With COVID-19 ... ›
- Climate Activists Protest Germany's New Datteln 4 Coal Power Plant ... ›
By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.