Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Past, Present, Future: U.S. Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Oct 31: Philip Wallach with the Brookings Institution has released a 15-page paper entitled, "U.S. Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions." The paper provides a concise look back at how the U.S. policy to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has evolved, how it has developed over the last several years including the political and legal entanglements; and, importantly, where it might be headed under different leadership scenarios in the Executive office and Congress. Also, of great importance the paper provides extensive links to referenced documents and information and thus becomes an important reference.
    In the introductory overview, Wallach indicates, "Where does U.S. climate change policy stand today? Most politically attentive Americans probably know just two salient facts: President Obama and Democrats failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation back when they controlled Congress, and the issue has received very little attention on the 2012 campaign trail. Nevertheless, regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and mitigate climate change are real and growing in importance at state, regional, and national level. Without the benefit of new legislation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finalized rules under the Clean Air Act affecting motor vehicle fuel efficiency and emissions from power plants. Recently, the D.C. Circuit rejected a number of legal challenges to these rules, ensuring that they will remain in place and grow in importance in coming years. This research note surveys the development of climate change policy in the program without new legislation, and assesses where GHG regulation can and should go from here."

    In the concluding section of the paper, Wallach looks ahead and says, ". . .without straining our imaginations, suppose that our current state of gridlocked divided government persists into 2013 and beyond, with at least one of the House, Senate, or White House unwilling to allow either comprehensive climate change legislation or simple removal of EPA's authority over GHGs. In this case, state and regional efforts will probably grow in importance, even as they suffer from periodic attrition. Federal regulations will have a major impact, reducing GHGs far less efficiently than a cap and trade system or a carbon tax. EPA will probably do its best to keep the scope of its rules fairly narrow, "tailoring" the CAA in many ways to prevent regulation from engulfing all small businesses. This continuation of the status quo is legally troubling, economically sub-optimal, and of dubious efficacy -- but it probably doesn't portend the economic disaster Republicans sometimes warn of. On the other hand, if environmentalist litigation successfully forces the EPA to create NAAQS for GHGs and thereafter to require states to tackle global carbon levels in their SIPs, the whole machinery of the CAA could be gummed up with little compensating benefit. . .
    "In the meantime, the status quo poses a dilemma for the policy-minded. If our first priority is to ensure that regulations' benefits exceed their costs, what should we make of the current set of GHG policies under the CAA? On the one hand, we might think that when it comes to climate change, something is better than nothing and the perfect should not be the enemy of the good. On the other hand, there is a real danger of settling for mediocre and wasteful policies simply because 'doing nothing' feels wrong. Arguably, the most important effect of adopting sensible American climate change policy would be to put the United States in a position of global leadership on the issue. But the current CAA policies, which are bitterly contested by half of our political class, are incapable of fulfilling this role. Indeed, they pose a danger of undermining the case for acting against climate change; when critics say that our GHG emission controls are wasteful, poorly designed, and imposed by 'fiat,' they will be more than a little correct. Executing a legislative tradeoff enacting efficient carbon pricing and ending the strange interpretive odyssey under the Clean Air Act should be a priority for believers in sensible policy."
    Access the complete paper from the Brookings Institution (click here). [#Climate]
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