Fracking on Election Eve

Posted on October 23, 2012 by Robert Kirsch

The technique known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), especially in the context of developing natural gas, continues to generate controversy, legal fees and emotion.  The question remains as to whether the technique itself presents any unusual risk to the environment or natural resources.  What is clear, however, is the political significance of fracturing and the challenges that our polarized, political dialog presents to achieving a rational result in or from  the fracturing debate.

On the federal side, the Administration has taken steps in order to represent to voters that the President has done what he could to see that hydraulic fracturing occurs in a manner that does not threaten the environment.  Concrete steps are taking place in three Agencies.

-    BLM has issued draft regulations relating to fracturing activities taking place on federal lands.  The proposal drew thousands of comments and no action is likely until well after the election.

-    EPA issued draft guidance proposing to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the UIC program.  This proposal also resulted in thousands of comments, all but precluding any chance that EPA will be in a position to act until well after the election.

-    EPA is continuing its study into the possible connection between hydraulic fracturing and underground sources of drinking water.  A partial report reflecting some retrospective analysis is due before year end, but the meat of the report will not be available until 2014.

-    EPA continues to pursue its general investigation into the way fracturing occurs through its investigation into 9 fracturing companies.  EPA has proposed to publish information reflecting well densities and chemical use relatively soon. 

-    EPA has reviewed and is continuing to review petitions filed by environmental organizations seeking to force the Agency to take steps to regulate fracturing under various regulatory programs, including TSCA.  EPA has denied some of the relief sought, but is collecting information under some and beginning its evaluation of others.

-    At the regional level, EPA has engaged in studies when citizen pressure has suggested a connection between fracturing and contaminated drinking water.  This has proven to be an area where EPA has not maintained consistency or scientific integrity.  The agency’s work at Dimmock, Pavillion and elsewhere has resulted principally in controversy and criticism, and has done little to advance the state of knowledge about fracturing.

-    DOE Secretary Chu has been an Administration spokesman for White House efforts to coordinate the many federal entities that seem to be working on fracturing issues.  His role has been above the weeds and the fact that a Secretary charged with overseeing national energy policy, if there is one,  is the Administration’s front man, appears to be a bone to those suggesting the sole interest of the President is in making energy development more difficult.

-    Within DOA, the Forest Service has sent mixed signals with respect to whether fracturing is viewed as posing risks to other resources.  While several forests have adopted plans anticipating the development of resources within their jurisdiction, including by fracturing, the George Washington National Forest plan remains under review, having proposed to ban fracturing in its initial draft release.

-    The USGS recently has entered the fray in connections with published concerns linking fracturing and increased seismic activity.  Preliminary indications suggest the true focus of such efforts may be long term injection wells, rather than transient fracturing activities, but there is more to follow on this topic.

The federal role in the fracturing debate also has occurred in courts.  Environmental interest groups recently have begun to raise fracturing activities in a number of lawsuits challenging the adequacy of the environmental reviews conducted in connection with federal leases.  Many  such cases are making their way through the courts, and are being watched for the decisions..

In his public statements, the President, of course, has been careful to promote the safe development of natural gas resources, including by fracturing.  He has offered what generally have been viewed as favorable statements in his state of the union address, and more recently in his remarks at the Democratic National Convention.  Of course none of those favorable comments has slowed any of the developments noted above, nor were the President’s remarks necessarily inconsistent with such action.

There is much resistance to the above federal efforts from states, and from industry which has had decades of experience accommodating state regulators in connection with drilling and developing wells.  States too have been active, to varying degrees, with some devising thoughtful programs balancing the needs of developers with the concerns of some members of the public.  The politicization of the issue also has reached the states, however, and nowhere is it more in evidence than in the glacial SGEIS process that has been under way for years, with no regulations on the horizon. There also have been intrastate efforts directed at fracturing by the Susquehanna River and Delaware River Basin Commissions, with the former moving forward with water management programs while the latter has, by default, banned fracturing until a compromise is agreed upon among the member sovereign constituencies.

And – don’t expect the controversy and misunderstandings surrounding fracturing to disappear soon.  In addition to a small scale advocacy film last year, Hollywood is entering the fray with a major film slated for release in the not-too-distant future.  Television already has managed to capitalize on the drama fracturing offers in more than one series.

Things will change after the election.  Stay tuned to find out how.

A Bridge Too Far? EPA's War on Lead-Based Paint Takes Aim at Commercial Buildings

Posted on June 30, 2010 by Charles Efflandt

No one doubts that EPA’s war on lead-based paint serves the cause of mitigating an established health threat. With children being particularly at risk, the regulations to date have focused on lead-based paint in older homes and other “child-occupied facilities.” On May 6, 2010, however, EPA gave notice of its intent to take the battle to an undefined set of commercial and public buildings. Can a full-scale assault on commercial facilities, which will involve a more complex set of regulatory variables and which will venture farther from the core health risk concerns, succeed in achieving a proper balance of competing factors?

 

EPA’s May 6, 2010 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announcing the next step in the lead-based paint campaign was published only days after the April 22, 2010 effective date of the controversial Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (“RRP Rule”). That rule regulates renovation and repair activities disturbing lead-based paint in older homes and child-occupied facilities. The RRP Rule affects contractors, landlords and others who perform RRP work for compensation.

 

The RRP Rule includes provisions for the required certification (for a fee) of firms performing covered RRP work, the training and certification (at a significant cost) of “Certified Renovators” through EPA-accredited classes, the required use of detailed RRP work practices when performing covered activities, the retention of compliance records, and the verification of compliance with work practice obligations. Even though the RRP Rule has a relatively narrow focus - residences and other child-occupied facilities - its requirements have generated substantial controversy.

 

Because the RRP Rule applies to numerous trades and contractors, as well as to certain landlords and other persons, issues related to obtaining the required training, safe implementation of the work practice requirements, costs of compliance and the possibility of a $37,500 per day, per violation penalty are only now being confronted by the regulated community as well as the regulators. Small contractors may be forced out of business, impacting competition. Needed RRP work may not be performed due to cost. Lead-contaminated waste disposal will create new environmental/health problems partially offsetting the benefits of the RRP Rule. Suffice it to say, EPA has not yet solved the numerous problems and complexities of implementing even these regulations focused on older homes and child-occupied facilities.

 

With this background, and setting aside for the moment legal mandates, one can reasonably question whether EPA is prepared to set its sights on a significantly more complex regulatory challenge- the renovation and repair of an estimated two to three million commercial and public facilities constructed prior to 1980. The ANPR includes no proposed language. Rather, the public is invited to respond to over 100 detailed questions and data requests.

 

At this time, the scope of EPA’s assault on the renovation and repair of commercial and public buildings is unknown. No current limitations on covered “commercial” and “public” buildings exist and both exterior and interior renovation and repair work are included in the ANPR. Unresolved questions include: What renovation and repair work should be covered? What activities create the most risk? Should exposure pathways be broadened to include nearby properties? How should the substantial amount of lead-contaminated waste be handled to avoid creating a different health and environmental hazard?

 

This much is known. The regulatory variables associated with extending the war on lead-based paint to commercial and public buildings are more numerous and the targeted health risks have expanded. I suggest that there is a real possibility that the regulations could fail to appropriately balance the legitimate interests of contractors, building owners and the public with the known and perceived health risks. Let us hope that the regulated community weighs-in on these issues and that the EPA gives careful thought to this next step in its campaign against lead-based paint.

 

The public comment period for this proposal ends July 6, 2010.

PENNSYLVANIA CLEAN WATER AND BROWNFIELDS INVESTMENT OF STIMULUS FUNDS

Posted on February 27, 2009 by Joseph Manko

Among the priorities under the $787.5 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is repairing, rebuilding, and constructing the nation’s water infrastructure. Approximately $6 billion will augment the EPA’s clean water and drinking water state revolving funds, of which approximately $221 million will be disbursed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVest). The governing board of PennVest is appointed by Governor Rendell, and I have been serving as its chair for the past six years.

 

PennVest administers the approximately $300 million annual allotment of Clean Water and Drinking Water funds previously supplied by EPA on a matching basis with Pennsylvania. These funds will now be augmented by the $212 million in stimulus funds. The Clean Water Fund addresses waste water infrastructure. The fund also addresses brownfields (with its protection of water quality) and storm water, whereas the Drinking Water Fund is strictly for water supply and distribution. At least 50 percent of the funding must be in the form of grants.

 

With the current emphasis on sustainability, alternative energy, greenhouse gas emission reduction and the need for more stringent control over stormwater run-off, the allocation of stimulus funds by PennVest will focus on innovative green technology, including particularly, controlling stormwater and remediating brownfields (at least 20 percent of the stimulus funding must be used for “green infrastructure”.)

 

Although the final disbursement of the economic stimulus funding will be affected by various regulations, the awarding of grants and loans will likely be on the same timetable as in the past with an emphasis on “shovel ready” projects. Funding agreements must be entered into and contracts for the full amount signed within a year.  The ultimate goal is to immediately increase the amount of jobs needed to construct the infrastructural repair, rebuilding and construction. 

PENNSYLVANIA CLEAN WATER AND BROWNFIELDS INVESTMENT OF STIMULUS FUNDS

Posted on February 27, 2009 by Joseph Manko

Among the priorities under the $787.5 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is repairing, rebuilding, and constructing the nation’s water infrastructure. Approximately $6 billion will augment the EPA’s clean water and drinking water state revolving funds, of which approximately $221 million will be disbursed to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVest). The governing board of PennVest is appointed by Governor Rendell, and I have been serving as its chair for the past six years.

 

PennVest administers the approximately $300 million annual allotment of Clean Water and Drinking Water funds previously supplied by EPA on a matching basis with Pennsylvania. These funds will now be augmented by the $212 million in stimulus funds. The Clean Water Fund addresses waste water infrastructure. The fund also addresses brownfields (with its protection of water quality) and storm water, whereas the Drinking Water Fund is strictly for water supply and distribution. At least 50 percent of the funding must be in the form of grants.

 

With the current emphasis on sustainability, alternative energy, greenhouse gas emission reduction and the need for more stringent control over stormwater run-off, the allocation of stimulus funds by PennVest will focus on innovative green technology, including particularly, controlling stormwater and remediating brownfields (at least 20 percent of the stimulus funding must be used for “green infrastructure”.)

 

Although the final disbursement of the economic stimulus funding will be affected by various regulations, the awarding of grants and loans will likely be on the same timetable as in the past with an emphasis on “shovel ready” projects. Funding agreements must be entered into and contracts for the full amount signed within a year.  The ultimate goal is to immediately increase the amount of jobs needed to construct the infrastructural repair, rebuilding and construction. 

Section 115 of the Clean Air Act - A Useful Tool for Climate Change?

Posted on February 25, 2009 by Angus Macbeth

We are not going to have Congressional action on a regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the time EPA will feel compelled to respond to the Supreme Court's direction in the Massachusetts case and announce whether CO2 emissions endanger public health or welfare. If endangerment is found under Section 109 or 202 of the Act, it appears to lead to ambient air quality standards for CO2 which are then to be met through state implementation plans. By controlling the sources of CO2 within its borders, no state is likely to be able to reduce CO2 to whatever ambient level is established. This is the practical result of the fact that greenhouse gases are a global problem not a local or regional problem. Moreover, the regulation of CO2 under other portions of the Act will likely follow. Perhaps the chaos likely to ensue from following this course will push Congress to pass legislation addressing greenhouse gases. But relying on Congress to do the sensible thing may well be an imprudent course.

 

Why not try an endangerment finding under Section 115 of the Act instead? It addresses international air pollution which is what GHG emissions are. It calls for a determination of endangerment in a foreign country from sources in the United States. The determination is deemed a finding under Sec.110(a)(2)(H)(ii) of the Act; that finding may be that the relevant SIP is substantially inadequate to comply with the requirements of the Act but need not be that it is inadequate to attain the NAAQS. The affected foreign country must be invited to appear at public hearings on appropriate revision of the SIP and the United States must be given reciprocal rights by the foreign country. Making the determination and establishing reciprocity would take EPA into comparatively unfamiliar territory; starting GHG reduction through state action would follow the path that the US has already started down.

The advantages of this approach that I see are, first, that it deals with the GHG issue as a global, or at least an international, problem rather than as a local or regional one. Second, it gives the states the opportunity to proceed with cap-and-trade regimes which I think will, in some form, be the Congressional solution. Third, it may be able to avoid introducing GHG regulation into other CAA programs such as New Source Review which may be hard to untangle if and when a cap-and-trade regime is established.

The disadvantages are that it is certainly not a perfect fit with a national cap-and-trade or GHG emission tax scheme which I view as the most rational approaches that Congress might enact (though the rationality of a tax scheme is much greater than the likelihood that Congress would embrace it). If you favor command and control regulation and the complexity of New Source Review, this is not the solution for you. There are also risks in what the courts may do in interpreting Section 115 which has rarely been subjected to judicial scrutiny.

In sum, I suggest Section 115 as the best of the ill-fitting options which the Clean Air Act offers for a rational approach to reducing GHG emissions.  

Section 115 of the Clean Air Act - A Useful Tool for Climate Change?

Posted on February 25, 2009 by Angus Macbeth

We are not going to have Congressional action on a regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the time EPA will feel compelled to respond to the Supreme Court's direction in the Massachusetts case and announce whether CO2 emissions endanger public health or welfare. If endangerment is found under Section 109 or 202 of the Act, it appears to lead to ambient air quality standards for CO2 which are then to be met through state implementation plans. By controlling the sources of CO2 within its borders, no state is likely to be able to reduce CO2 to whatever ambient level is established. This is the practical result of the fact that greenhouse gases are a global problem not a local or regional problem. Moreover, the regulation of CO2 under other portions of the Act will likely follow. Perhaps the chaos likely to ensue from following this course will push Congress to pass legislation addressing greenhouse gases. But relying on Congress to do the sensible thing may well be an imprudent course.

 

Why not try an endangerment finding under Section 115 of the Act instead? It addresses international air pollution which is what GHG emissions are. It calls for a determination of endangerment in a foreign country from sources in the United States. The determination is deemed a finding under Sec.110(a)(2)(H)(ii) of the Act; that finding may be that the relevant SIP is substantially inadequate to comply with the requirements of the Act but need not be that it is inadequate to attain the NAAQS. The affected foreign country must be invited to appear at public hearings on appropriate revision of the SIP and the United States must be given reciprocal rights by the foreign country. Making the determination and establishing reciprocity would take EPA into comparatively unfamiliar territory; starting GHG reduction through state action would follow the path that the US has already started down.

The advantages of this approach that I see are, first, that it deals with the GHG issue as a global, or at least an international, problem rather than as a local or regional one. Second, it gives the states the opportunity to proceed with cap-and-trade regimes which I think will, in some form, be the Congressional solution. Third, it may be able to avoid introducing GHG regulation into other CAA programs such as New Source Review which may be hard to untangle if and when a cap-and-trade regime is established.

The disadvantages are that it is certainly not a perfect fit with a national cap-and-trade or GHG emission tax scheme which I view as the most rational approaches that Congress might enact (though the rationality of a tax scheme is much greater than the likelihood that Congress would embrace it). If you favor command and control regulation and the complexity of New Source Review, this is not the solution for you. There are also risks in what the courts may do in interpreting Section 115 which has rarely been subjected to judicial scrutiny.

In sum, I suggest Section 115 as the best of the ill-fitting options which the Clean Air Act offers for a rational approach to reducing GHG emissions.  

Section 115 of the Clean Air Act - A Useful Tool for Climate Change?

Posted on February 25, 2009 by Angus Macbeth

We are not going to have Congressional action on a regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the time EPA will feel compelled to respond to the Supreme Court's direction in the Massachusetts case and announce whether CO2 emissions endanger public health or welfare. If endangerment is found under Section 109 or 202 of the Act, it appears to lead to ambient air quality standards for CO2 which are then to be met through state implementation plans. By controlling the sources of CO2 within its borders, no state is likely to be able to reduce CO2 to whatever ambient level is established. This is the practical result of the fact that greenhouse gases are a global problem not a local or regional problem. Moreover, the regulation of CO2 under other portions of the Act will likely follow. Perhaps the chaos likely to ensue from following this course will push Congress to pass legislation addressing greenhouse gases. But relying on Congress to do the sensible thing may well be an imprudent course.

 

Why not try an endangerment finding under Section 115 of the Act instead? It addresses international air pollution which is what GHG emissions are. It calls for a determination of endangerment in a foreign country from sources in the United States. The determination is deemed a finding under Sec.110(a)(2)(H)(ii) of the Act; that finding may be that the relevant SIP is substantially inadequate to comply with the requirements of the Act but need not be that it is inadequate to attain the NAAQS. The affected foreign country must be invited to appear at public hearings on appropriate revision of the SIP and the United States must be given reciprocal rights by the foreign country. Making the determination and establishing reciprocity would take EPA into comparatively unfamiliar territory; starting GHG reduction through state action would follow the path that the US has already started down.

The advantages of this approach that I see are, first, that it deals with the GHG issue as a global, or at least an international, problem rather than as a local or regional one. Second, it gives the states the opportunity to proceed with cap-and-trade regimes which I think will, in some form, be the Congressional solution. Third, it may be able to avoid introducing GHG regulation into other CAA programs such as New Source Review which may be hard to untangle if and when a cap-and-trade regime is established.

The disadvantages are that it is certainly not a perfect fit with a national cap-and-trade or GHG emission tax scheme which I view as the most rational approaches that Congress might enact (though the rationality of a tax scheme is much greater than the likelihood that Congress would embrace it). If you favor command and control regulation and the complexity of New Source Review, this is not the solution for you. There are also risks in what the courts may do in interpreting Section 115 which has rarely been subjected to judicial scrutiny.

In sum, I suggest Section 115 as the best of the ill-fitting options which the Clean Air Act offers for a rational approach to reducing GHG emissions.  

Section 115 of the Clean Air Act - A Useful Tool for Climate Change?

Posted on February 25, 2009 by Angus Macbeth

We are not going to have Congressional action on a regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the time EPA will feel compelled to respond to the Supreme Court's direction in the Massachusetts case and announce whether CO2 emissions endanger public health or welfare. If endangerment is found under Section 109 or 202 of the Act, it appears to lead to ambient air quality standards for CO2 which are then to be met through state implementation plans. By controlling the sources of CO2 within its borders, no state is likely to be able to reduce CO2 to whatever ambient level is established. This is the practical result of the fact that greenhouse gases are a global problem not a local or regional problem. Moreover, the regulation of CO2 under other portions of the Act will likely follow. Perhaps the chaos likely to ensue from following this course will push Congress to pass legislation addressing greenhouse gases. But relying on Congress to do the sensible thing may well be an imprudent course.

 

Why not try an endangerment finding under Section 115 of the Act instead? It addresses international air pollution which is what GHG emissions are. It calls for a determination of endangerment in a foreign country from sources in the United States. The determination is deemed a finding under Sec.110(a)(2)(H)(ii) of the Act; that finding may be that the relevant SIP is substantially inadequate to comply with the requirements of the Act but need not be that it is inadequate to attain the NAAQS. The affected foreign country must be invited to appear at public hearings on appropriate revision of the SIP and the United States must be given reciprocal rights by the foreign country. Making the determination and establishing reciprocity would take EPA into comparatively unfamiliar territory; starting GHG reduction through state action would follow the path that the US has already started down.

The advantages of this approach that I see are, first, that it deals with the GHG issue as a global, or at least an international, problem rather than as a local or regional one. Second, it gives the states the opportunity to proceed with cap-and-trade regimes which I think will, in some form, be the Congressional solution. Third, it may be able to avoid introducing GHG regulation into other CAA programs such as New Source Review which may be hard to untangle if and when a cap-and-trade regime is established.

The disadvantages are that it is certainly not a perfect fit with a national cap-and-trade or GHG emission tax scheme which I view as the most rational approaches that Congress might enact (though the rationality of a tax scheme is much greater than the likelihood that Congress would embrace it). If you favor command and control regulation and the complexity of New Source Review, this is not the solution for you. There are also risks in what the courts may do in interpreting Section 115 which has rarely been subjected to judicial scrutiny.

In sum, I suggest Section 115 as the best of the ill-fitting options which the Clean Air Act offers for a rational approach to reducing GHG emissions.  

Section 115 of the Clean Air Act - A Useful Tool for Climate Change?

Posted on February 25, 2009 by Angus Macbeth

We are not going to have Congressional action on a regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the time EPA will feel compelled to respond to the Supreme Court's direction in the Massachusetts case and announce whether CO2 emissions endanger public health or welfare. If endangerment is found under Section 109 or 202 of the Act, it appears to lead to ambient air quality standards for CO2 which are then to be met through state implementation plans. By controlling the sources of CO2 within its borders, no state is likely to be able to reduce CO2 to whatever ambient level is established. This is the practical result of the fact that greenhouse gases are a global problem not a local or regional problem. Moreover, the regulation of CO2 under other portions of the Act will likely follow. Perhaps the chaos likely to ensue from following this course will push Congress to pass legislation addressing greenhouse gases. But relying on Congress to do the sensible thing may well be an imprudent course.

 

Why not try an endangerment finding under Section 115 of the Act instead? It addresses international air pollution which is what GHG emissions are. It calls for a determination of endangerment in a foreign country from sources in the United States. The determination is deemed a finding under Sec.110(a)(2)(H)(ii) of the Act; that finding may be that the relevant SIP is substantially inadequate to comply with the requirements of the Act but need not be that it is inadequate to attain the NAAQS. The affected foreign country must be invited to appear at public hearings on appropriate revision of the SIP and the United States must be given reciprocal rights by the foreign country. Making the determination and establishing reciprocity would take EPA into comparatively unfamiliar territory; starting GHG reduction through state action would follow the path that the US has already started down.

The advantages of this approach that I see are, first, that it deals with the GHG issue as a global, or at least an international, problem rather than as a local or regional one. Second, it gives the states the opportunity to proceed with cap-and-trade regimes which I think will, in some form, be the Congressional solution. Third, it may be able to avoid introducing GHG regulation into other CAA programs such as New Source Review which may be hard to untangle if and when a cap-and-trade regime is established.

The disadvantages are that it is certainly not a perfect fit with a national cap-and-trade or GHG emission tax scheme which I view as the most rational approaches that Congress might enact (though the rationality of a tax scheme is much greater than the likelihood that Congress would embrace it). If you favor command and control regulation and the complexity of New Source Review, this is not the solution for you. There are also risks in what the courts may do in interpreting Section 115 which has rarely been subjected to judicial scrutiny.

In sum, I suggest Section 115 as the best of the ill-fitting options which the Clean Air Act offers for a rational approach to reducing GHG emissions.  

Section 115 of the Clean Air Act - A Useful Tool for Climate Change?

Posted on February 25, 2009 by Angus Macbeth

We are not going to have Congressional action on a regime for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the time EPA will feel compelled to respond to the Supreme Court's direction in the Massachusetts case and announce whether CO2 emissions endanger public health or welfare. If endangerment is found under Section 109 or 202 of the Act, it appears to lead to ambient air quality standards for CO2 which are then to be met through state implementation plans. By controlling the sources of CO2 within its borders, no state is likely to be able to reduce CO2 to whatever ambient level is established. This is the practical result of the fact that greenhouse gases are a global problem not a local or regional problem. Moreover, the regulation of CO2 under other portions of the Act will likely follow. Perhaps the chaos likely to ensue from following this course will push Congress to pass legislation addressing greenhouse gases. But relying on Congress to do the sensible thing may well be an imprudent course.

 

Why not try an endangerment finding under Section 115 of the Act instead? It addresses international air pollution which is what GHG emissions are. It calls for a determination of endangerment in a foreign country from sources in the United States. The determination is deemed a finding under Sec.110(a)(2)(H)(ii) of the Act; that finding may be that the relevant SIP is substantially inadequate to comply with the requirements of the Act but need not be that it is inadequate to attain the NAAQS. The affected foreign country must be invited to appear at public hearings on appropriate revision of the SIP and the United States must be given reciprocal rights by the foreign country. Making the determination and establishing reciprocity would take EPA into comparatively unfamiliar territory; starting GHG reduction through state action would follow the path that the US has already started down.

The advantages of this approach that I see are, first, that it deals with the GHG issue as a global, or at least an international, problem rather than as a local or regional one. Second, it gives the states the opportunity to proceed with cap-and-trade regimes which I think will, in some form, be the Congressional solution. Third, it may be able to avoid introducing GHG regulation into other CAA programs such as New Source Review which may be hard to untangle if and when a cap-and-trade regime is established.

The disadvantages are that it is certainly not a perfect fit with a national cap-and-trade or GHG emission tax scheme which I view as the most rational approaches that Congress might enact (though the rationality of a tax scheme is much greater than the likelihood that Congress would embrace it). If you favor command and control regulation and the complexity of New Source Review, this is not the solution for you. There are also risks in what the courts may do in interpreting Section 115 which has rarely been subjected to judicial scrutiny.

In sum, I suggest Section 115 as the best of the ill-fitting options which the Clean Air Act offers for a rational approach to reducing GHG emissions.  

Environmental Site Assessment Flexibility or Further Complexity? EPA Adopts Forestland and Rural Property Phase I Standard Practice

Posted on January 16, 2009 by Charles Efflandt

On December 23, 2008, EPA issued a direct final rule amending the “All Appropriate Inquiries Rule” [Standards for Conducting All Appropriate Inquiry]by adopting ASTM International’s “Standard Practice for Environmental Site Assessment Process for Forestland or Rural Property” (ASTM E2247-08) [EPA Amendment to AAI Rule]. ASTM E2247-08 was published after EPA promulgated the All Appropriate Inquires (AAI) rule and is specifically tailored to conducting Phase I environmental site assessments of large tracts of rural and forestland property. EPA’s action incorporates the ASTM E2247-08 forestland and rural property assessment practices as a federal standard for establishing the AAI component of the bona fide prospective purchaser, contiguous property owner and innocent landowner defenses to CERCLA owner/operator liability.

 

The AAI Rule as originally promulgated referenced and recognized as compliant ASTM E1527-05, which provides practices for conducting AAI of commercial real estate. ASTM E2247-08 is a variant of the original standard that focuses on the environmental assessment of greater than 120 acres of forestland or rural property or property with a developed use of only managed forestland and/or agriculture. Users of the forestland and rural property Phase I practices are intended to include the forest industry, conservation organizations, natural resource industries and rural real estate professionals and lenders.

 

Although the Forestland or Rural Property Standard is over 40 pages in length, EPA admits that the differences between this standard and the standards incorporated in the original AAI Rule are few and relatively insignificant.

 

Generally, the forestland and rural property practices offer the “Environmental Professional” more options to satisfy the site reconnaissance component of the Phase I assessment to, in part, alleviate the burden of visually inspecting these large properties. Also, the 120 acres (or more) that qualify the property for this standard need not be contiguous, provided all parcels are part of the same transaction and have substantially the same land use. Minor differences in the “past and present owner/occupant” interview requirements also exist that take into account the nature and use of these properties.

 

Both the original Rule and ASTM E2247-08 require the Phase I “User” to search for environmental liens and collect other information reasonably ascertainable to the User. Although the original Rule does not mandate disclosure of this information to the Environmental Professional, ASTM E2247-08 requires that such information be disclosed.

 

ASTM E2247-08 also includes a more extensive list of potentially applicable historical records and offers guidance on “beyond scope” assessments particularly relevant to forestland and rural property such as endangered species and non-point source assessment considerations.

Conceptually, a modified Phase I assessment practice for large tracts of forestland and rural property makes sense. However, EPA’s recent amendment to the AAI Rule provides that a purchaser of forestland or rural property within the scope of ASTM E2247-08 need not use the practices in that standard. Rather, such purchasers may continue to follow the provisions of the original Rule and ASTM E1527-05.

 

That being the case, and given that the new forestland and rural property standard is in many respects more stringent than the original Rule, it is debatable whether this amendment of the Rule actually provides focus, efficiency and useful flexibility to the assessment of these types of properties or simply adds another layer of confusion and complexity for property purchasers and Environmental Professionals to evaluate.

EPA Attempts to Increase Recycling by Redefining Solid Waste

Posted on December 31, 2008 by Karen Aldridge Crawford

73 Fed. Reg. 64668 (Oct. 30, 2008) to be codified at 40 C.F.R. 260-261

 

On October 30, 2008, the EPA revised the definition of solid waste to exclude certain recycled materials under RCRA. The purpose behind this change is twofold: first is to respond to a series of decisions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and second is to clarify the RCRA concept of "legitimate recycling."   The EPA estimates that 5600 facilities in 280 industries in 21 economic sectors may be affected by this revision and expects that the revision will encourage recycling of additional hazardous secondary materials. Exclusion of certain hazardous secondary materials from the definition based on how they are reclaimed should result in resource conservation, as well as cost savings to those who engage in beneficial recycling/reclamation in accord with the new rules.

 

Under the new rule, hazardous secondary materials that are legitimately reclaimed may be excluded from regulation as hazardous waste. The new rule excludes certain hazardous secondary materials, such as RCRA-listed sludges, listed by-products, and spent materials that are generated and legitimately reclaimed under the control of the generator. Only those hazardous secondary materials that are handled in non-land based units, e.g., tanks, containers, or containment buildings, are excluded. This exclusion does not apply to hazardous secondary materials that are inherently waste-like, that are used in a manner constituting disposal or used to produce products that are applied to or placed on the land, or that are burned to recover energy or used to produce a fuel or are otherwise contained in fuels. The following activities fall within the exclusion: recycling on-site at the generating facility, recycling off-site within the same company, and recycling through a tolling agreement. Additionally, the rule contains a petition procedure for a generator to obtain a non-waste determination that its recycled hazardous secondary material is not discarded, making it exempt from hazardous secondary materials regulation. Intermediate facilities and recyclers/reclaimers also must comply with provisions of the rule to receive and recycle/reclaim exempt hazardous secondary materials and must meet the financial assurance requirements. Generators who ship to such intermediate facilities or recyclers/reclaimers must make "reasonable efforts", as defined by the new rules, to ensure proper management and legitimate recycling of the exempt materials prior to shipping, and must document their investigatory efforts addressing specific issues defined in the new rules.

 

To be excluded from hazardous secondary materials regulation, the recycling of the hazardous secondary material must be legitimate. Legitimacy of the recycling relies on the following mandatory factors: (1) the hazardous secondary material provides a useful contribution to the recycling process or product and (2) the recycling process produces a valuable product or intermediate. The EPA will also consider two other factors, which are not mandatory: (1) the hazardous secondary material should be managed as a valuable commodity and (2) the final product of the recycling cannot contain significantly higher levels of hazardous constituents than are in analogous products.

 

The EPA received hundreds of comments on the long-awaited new rule (first proposed five years earlier), raising multiple issues, including the scope of the new rule and whether the EPA had the legal authority to make these changes. In particular, the EPA received many comments from environmental groups and the waste treatment and recycling industry regarding the EPA's authority to define when recyclable hazardous secondary materials are solid wastes and how. Other commenters argued that the EPA needed stronger conditions to protect human health and the environment before it could lawfully claim that excluded materials are not discarded. Additionally, the hazardous waste generating industry disputed the EPA's authority to promulgate the new rule, arguing that the EPA has no authority to regulate such recycling. 

 

The EPA also received extensive comments requesting that the scope of the rule be expanded to include hazardous secondary materials used in a manner constituting disposal and hazardous secondary materials burned for energy recovery. The EPA maintains, however, that these are outside the scope of the solid waste exclusion's focus on reclamation. 

 

Additionally, most states, the environmental community, and the waste management industry argued that all four of the legitimacy factors should be mandatory requirements for a recycling activity to be considered legitimate recycling. Industry, however, had some commenters who supported the proposed structure and others who preferred that the factors be balancing factors. The EPA compromised between the two approaches, instituting two mandatory requirements and two non-mandatory factors.

 

The revised "solid waste" definition provides opportunities to recycle hazardous secondary materials but also includes many details that regulated industries will need to be aware of and implement to ensure their recycling of hazardous secondary materials falls within the newly crafted exception to hazardous secondary materials regulation.

WHOA THERE

Posted on May 8, 2008 by Brian Rosenthal

Broad statement of underlying support cannot sustain EPA regulatory definition of navigable waters [1]

 EPA’s broad regulatory reach on navigable waters is rejected by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

Setting aside the EPA’s regulatory definition of navigable waters, the D.C. Circuit Court  found the EPA’s definition was inadequately explained in light of recent United States Supreme Court cases. Oil producing facilities that add pollutants to navigable waters were required to develop spill prevention, control and counter measure plans under a Clean Water Act regulation that broadly defined navigable waters. Affected industry participants and associations successfully challenged the regulation.  

The question became whether in promulgating a regulation in an area where there has been recent Supreme Court activity whether the EPA considered all the relevant factors. If it did not, plaintiffs argued the EPA’s decisions were arbitrary and capricious or a clear error of judgment. The EPA argued while concise, its explanation was adequate. Its explanation came in a response to a comment and provided in part: “The case law supports a broad definition of navigable waters, such as the one published today, and that definition does not necessarily depend on navigability in fact.”[2]

The court could not reconcile, however, recent cases, that do not define navigable waters as broadly as in the EPA’s expansive rule. Noting recent courts have reined in the reach of the definition of navigable waters to not reach the fullest extent of the commerce clause, the court found inadequate EPA’s brief comment statement. Thus, the court agreed the EPA rule was not the product of reasoned decision making and struck it.



[1] American Petroleum Ind. v. Johnson, No. 02-2247 (D.D.C. March 31, 2008) (LEXIS 24963). 

[2] 2002 SPCC Rule, 67 Fed. Reg. at 47,075.

Acknowledging under an EPA review, the agency’s explanation must only be concise and general, the court noted that an explanation still must be provided showing that the relevant factors are considered. The EPA’s broad statement regarding case law support offered few clues as to which cases were used for reliance; thus, while the EPA’s statement was concise and general it did not provide sufficient support for the regulation. 

While expert agencies deserve deference and a “law review article” basis is not required for support, the court found the particular issues in this case provided a “unique burden” based on the recent Supreme Court case law that addressed the very issue.[1] 

At the very least, the court found recent case law established the Clean Water Act jurisdiction is not as broad as the limits of the Commerce Clause. In essence, the court concluded while the EPA may have taken a look at the factors, it could not conclude the look was reasoned enough to sustain the regulation. 

Therefore, the regulatory definition of navigable waters was set aside and vacated as arbitrary and capricious. 

The case has a nice overview of organizational and individual standing and ripeness. It also contains an interesting analysis of available remedies, discusses the reopening doctrine and the administrative review standard for cases in the D.C. Circuit. 



[1] Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715, 126 S. Ct. 2208 (2006); Solid Waste Agency of N. Cook County v. U.S. Army Corp of Engr’s, 531 U.S. 159, 121 S. Ct. 675 (2001).

California v. U.S. EPA--Fighting for the Last Word on Mobile Source Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Posted on February 19, 2008 by Lee A. DeHihns, III

Following the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, deciding that greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, a federal-state skirmish has emerged in the climate change arena over mobile source emissions. The United States Government estimates that the transportation sector accounts for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Over the past months, the question of how to reduce those emissions has evolved into a dramatic political and legal battle, pitting California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger against U.S. President George Bush. 

The stage for this tussle was set long ago when Congress adopted the federal Clean Air Act and included in the law a special provision for California. Specifically, Section 209(a) of the Clean Air Act prohibits individual states from adopting emission standards for new motor vehicles. However, in recognition of California’s unique smog problems, a subsection (b) was added to enable California to adopt standards more stringent than federal standards so long as it applies for and obtains a waiver from the U.S. EPA. As one court recently explained, under Section 209(b), “Congress has essentially designated California as a proving ground for innovation in emission control regulations.” Other states are then free to adopt California’s standards pursuant to Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, so long as the standards are adopted at least two years before the model year that they regulate. 

In 2002, California invoked its unique Clean Air Act authority to address greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources. In particular, the State passed AB 1493 requiring the California Air Resources Board to develop and adopt regulations for the greenhouse gas emissions of passenger automobiles and light duty trucks. In September of 2004, the Air Resources Board adopted standards that apply to such vehicles beginning with model year 2009. As required by the Clean Air Act, California then requested a waiver from the U.S. EPA so that the standards could enter into force. While the waiver request was pending, no less than sixteen other states lined up to adopt California’s standards—for all practical purposes, the California standards were poised to become the de facto national standard.  

Automobile manufacturers challenged those regulations in federal courts in both Vermont and California, arguing that the state automobile emission standards for greenhouse gases constituted fuel efficiency standards, and that fuel efficiency standards are exclusively regulated by the federal government under the Environmental Policy and Conservation Act (“EPCA”).[1] Both courts rejected the manufacturers’ challenges, deciding that federal law did not preempt California’s ability to affect fuel economy through the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, so long as the U.S. EPA granted a waiver under the Clean Air Act—the stage was set for a showdown between California and the U.S. EPA.

The U.S. EPA played its hand slowly. During the summer of 2007, the U.S. EPA held hearings on California’s waiver request. Perhaps foreshadowing its upcoming decision on the request, the U.S. EPA then announced in the fall that it would begin its own “Rulemaking To Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Motor Vehicles,” planning for the adoption of federal regulations by October 2008. Finally, the shot was fired on December 19, 2007, when Stephen Johnson, the U.S. EPA Administrator, held a press conference announcing his agency would not grant a waiver to California’s regulation. At the same time, President Bush signed a new energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, requiring a fleet average of thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020 and an annual production of thirty-six billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022.[2] In making the announcement, Johnson specifically cited Bush’s recent signing of the bill and said, “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

Retaliation came swiftly. Little more than two weeks after Johnson’s announcement, California, along with 15 other states and five environmental groups, petitioned the Ninth Circuit on January 2, 2008, for review of the waiver denial.  In the lawsuit, California will need to make the case that its regulation under Section 209 was necessary to “meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.”  As a coastal state with limited fresh water resources, the effect of climate change on California may indeed be severe, involving rising sea levels, a reduction in the Sierra snow pack, and higher temperatures that would exacerbate the state’s ozone nonattainment problem, which is already the worst in the nation. A recent Stanford University study added fodder to this argument when it found Californians’ health will be disproportionately affected by greenhouse gas emissions, because the state is home to six of the most polluted cities in the United States. California will also need to make the case under section 209, that its standards “will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.” To that end, the California Air Resources Board released a January 2, 2008, assessment that concludes the federal law, even when fully implemented, will not be as effective as California’s standards at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles. Even if California is successful, California’s regulation will have to be modified as it was to apply to 2009 model cars—models that will shortly be coming to market. 

The EPA’s first legal maneuver in response to California’s petition may be to request a transfer from the Ninth Circuit to the more agency-friendly D.C. Circuit. Most challenges of EPA regulations must be filed in the D.C. Circuit—the relevant jurisdictional trigger being whether the action has “nationwide scope or effect.”  While the issue of the waiver makes its way through the courts, the U.S. EPA’s rulemaking will also go forward. To meet its goal of final action by October 2008, the U.S. EPA will have to move quickly, with the public comment period coming by summer 2008 at the latest. 

As these battles are fought, looming on the horizon is a general election in November, and a new federal administration beginning in January of 2009. If the U.S. EPA adopts regulations in October 2008 that do not go as far as the California standards, yet another legal challenge seems almost inevitable, if for no other reason than to stall any final rule until the administration changeover. When the dust does settle, presumably in 2009, the road to mobile source emission reductions will finally be paved.

Michèle Corash is a partner in the international law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP and a member of the firm’s environmental law practice group. She served as General Counsel of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1979 to 1982 and previously as Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy and Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Corash has consistently been listed in American Lawyer’s Corporate Counsel among the “Best Lawyers in America for Environmental Law” and in numerous other publications as being at the top of her field. She represents companies on a broad range of state, national and international environmental issues and claims regarding exposure to toxic substances. With the experience of being a former General Counsel of the EPA, Ms. Corash is well versed, and has been for many years, in the evolving area of clean technology, renewable resources and climate change. She advises clients on the many issues now facing corporations as they face the challenges of new technologies, infrastructures, markets and regulatory regimes.

Contact information: mcorash@mofo.com or (415) 268-7124



[1] Adopted in 1975, EPCA provides for the establishment of national corporate average fuel economy (“CAFÉ”) standards that apply to all passenger automobiles and light duty trucks.

[2] Coincidentally, at the same time, the European Commission adopted a proposal for legislation to dramatically reduce the average carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions of new passenger cars by 2012. If adopted by the European Parliament, the proposal requires, by 2012, a fleet average of 130 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer, with another 10 grams per kilometer reduction from alternative sources such as biofuels and more efficient air-conditioning. Considering Europe’s cars currently emit on average 160 grams of CO2 per kilometer, this represents an almost twenty percent reduction of CO2 emissions in four years. 

California v. U.S. EPA--Fighting for the Last Word on Mobile Source Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Posted on January 8, 2008 by Michèle Corash

Following the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, deciding that greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, a federal-state skirmish has emerged in the climate change arena over mobile source emissions. The United States Government estimates that the transportation sector accounts for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Over the past months, the question of how to reduce those emissions has evolved into a dramatic political and legal battle, pitting California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger against U.S. President George Bush. 

The stage for this tussle was set long ago when Congress adopted the federal Clean Air Act and included in the law a special provision for California. Specifically, Section 209(a) of the Clean Air Act prohibits individual states from adopting emission standards for new motor vehicles. However, in recognition of California’s unique smog problems, a subsection (b) was added to enable California to adopt standards more stringent than federal standards so long as it applies for and obtains a waiver from the U.S. EPA. As one court recently explained, under Section 209(b), “Congress has essentially designated California as a proving ground for innovation in emission control regulations.” Other states are then free to adopt California’s standards pursuant to Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, so long as the standards are adopted at least two years before the model year that they regulate. 

In 2002, California invoked its unique Clean Air Act authority to address greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources. In particular, the State passed AB 1493 requiring the California Air Resources Board to develop and adopt regulations for the greenhouse gas emissions of passenger automobiles and light duty trucks. In September of 2004, the Air Resources Board adopted standards that apply to such vehicles beginning with model year 2009. As required by the Clean Air Act, California then requested a waiver from the U.S. EPA so that the standards could enter into force. While the waiver request was pending, no less than sixteen other states lined up to adopt California’s standards—for all practical purposes, the California standards were poised to become the de facto national standard.  

Automobile manufacturers challenged those regulations in federal courts in both Vermont and California, arguing that the state automobile emission standards for greenhouse gases constituted fuel efficiency standards, and that fuel efficiency standards are exclusively regulated by the federal government under the Environmental Policy and Conservation Act (“EPCA”).[1] Both courts rejected the manufacturers’ challenges, deciding that federal law did not preempt California’s ability to affect fuel economy through the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, so long as the U.S. EPA granted a waiver under the Clean Air Act—the stage was set for a showdown between California and the U.S. EPA.

The U.S. EPA played its hand slowly. During the summer of 2007, the U.S. EPA held hearings on California’s waiver request. Perhaps foreshadowing its upcoming decision on the request, the U.S. EPA then announced in the fall that it would begin its own “Rulemaking To Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Motor Vehicles,” planning for the adoption of federal regulations by October 2008. Finally, the shot was fired on December 19, 2007, when Stephen Johnson, the U.S. EPA Administrator, held a press conference announcing his agency would not grant a waiver to California’s regulation. At the same time, President Bush signed a new energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, requiring a fleet average of thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020 and an annual production of thirty-six billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022.[2] In making the announcement, Johnson specifically cited Bush’s recent signing of the bill and said, “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

Retaliation came swiftly. Little more than two weeks after Johnson’s announcement, California, along with 15 other states and five environmental groups, petitioned the Ninth Circuit on January 2, 2008, for review of the waiver denial.  In the lawsuit, California will need to make the case that its regulation under Section 209 was necessary to “meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.”  As a coastal state with limited fresh water resources, the effect of climate change on California may indeed be severe, involving rising sea levels, a reduction in the Sierra snow pack, and higher temperatures that would exacerbate the state’s ozone nonattainment problem, which is already the worst in the nation. A recent Stanford University study added fodder to this argument when it found Californians’ health will be disproportionately affected by greenhouse gas emissions, because the state is home to six of the most polluted cities in the United States. California will also need to make the case under section 209, that its standards “will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.” To that end, the California Air Resources Board released a January 2, 2008, assessment that concludes the federal law, even when fully implemented, will not be as effective as California’s standards at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles. Even if California is successful, California’s regulation will have to be modified as it was to apply to 2009 model cars—models that will shortly be coming to market. 

The EPA’s first legal maneuver in response to California’s petition may be to request a transfer from the Ninth Circuit to the more agency-friendly D.C. Circuit. Most challenges of EPA regulations must be filed in the D.C. Circuit—the relevant jurisdictional trigger being whether the action has “nationwide scope or effect.”  While the issue of the waiver makes its way through the courts, the U.S. EPA’s rulemaking will also go forward. To meet its goal of final action by October 2008, the U.S. EPA will have to move quickly, with the public comment period coming by summer 2008 at the latest. 

As these battles are fought, looming on the horizon is a general election in November, and a new federal administration beginning in January of 2009. If the U.S. EPA adopts regulations in October 2008 that do not go as far as the California standards, yet another legal challenge seems almost inevitable, if for no other reason than to stall any final rule until the administration changeover. When the dust does settle, presumably in 2009, the road to mobile source emission reductions will finally be paved.

Michèle Corash is a partner in the international law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP and a member of the firm’s environmental law practice group. She served as General Counsel of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1979 to 1982 and previously as Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy and Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Corash has consistently been listed in American Lawyer’s Corporate Counsel among the “Best Lawyers in America for Environmental Law” and in numerous other publications as being at the top of her field. She represents companies on a broad range of state, national and international environmental issues and claims regarding exposure to toxic substances. With the experience of being a former General Counsel of the EPA, Ms. Corash is well versed, and has been for many years, in the evolving area of clean technology, renewable resources and climate change. She advises clients on the many issues now facing corporations as they face the challenges of new technologies, infrastructures, markets and regulatory regimes.

Contact information: mcorash@mofo.com or (415) 268-7124



[1] Adopted in 1975, EPCA provides for the establishment of national corporate average fuel economy (“CAFÉ”) standards that apply to all passenger automobiles and light duty trucks.

[2] Coincidentally, at the same time, the European Commission adopted a proposal for legislation to dramatically reduce the average carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions of new passenger cars by 2012. If adopted by the European Parliament, the proposal requires, by 2012, a fleet average of 130 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer, with another 10 grams per kilometer reduction from alternative sources such as biofuels and more efficient air-conditioning. Considering Europe’s cars currently emit on average 160 grams of CO2 per kilometer, this represents an almost twenty percent reduction of CO2 emissions in four years. 

California v. U.S. EPA--Fighting for the Last Word on Mobile Source Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Posted on January 8, 2008 by Michèle Corash

Following the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, deciding that greenhouse gases are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, a federal-state skirmish has emerged in the climate change arena over mobile source emissions. The United States Government estimates that the transportation sector accounts for approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Over the past months, the question of how to reduce those emissions has evolved into a dramatic political and legal battle, pitting California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger against U.S. President George Bush. 

The stage for this tussle was set long ago when Congress adopted the federal Clean Air Act and included in the law a special provision for California. Specifically, Section 209(a) of the Clean Air Act prohibits individual states from adopting emission standards for new motor vehicles. However, in recognition of California’s unique smog problems, a subsection (b) was added to enable California to adopt standards more stringent than federal standards so long as it applies for and obtains a waiver from the U.S. EPA. As one court recently explained, under Section 209(b), “Congress has essentially designated California as a proving ground for innovation in emission control regulations.” Other states are then free to adopt California’s standards pursuant to Section 177 of the Clean Air Act, so long as the standards are adopted at least two years before the model year that they regulate. 

In 2002, California invoked its unique Clean Air Act authority to address greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources. In particular, the State passed AB 1493 requiring the California Air Resources Board to develop and adopt regulations for the greenhouse gas emissions of passenger automobiles and light duty trucks. In September of 2004, the Air Resources Board adopted standards that apply to such vehicles beginning with model year 2009. As required by the Clean Air Act, California then requested a waiver from the U.S. EPA so that the standards could enter into force. While the waiver request was pending, no less than sixteen other states lined up to adopt California’s standards—for all practical purposes, the California standards were poised to become the de facto national standard.  

Automobile manufacturers challenged those regulations in federal courts in both Vermont and California, arguing that the state automobile emission standards for greenhouse gases constituted fuel efficiency standards, and that fuel efficiency standards are exclusively regulated by the federal government under the Environmental Policy and Conservation Act (“EPCA”).[1] Both courts rejected the manufacturers’ challenges, deciding that federal law did not preempt California’s ability to affect fuel economy through the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, so long as the U.S. EPA granted a waiver under the Clean Air Act—the stage was set for a showdown between California and the U.S. EPA.

The U.S. EPA played its hand slowly. During the summer of 2007, the U.S. EPA held hearings on California’s waiver request. Perhaps foreshadowing its upcoming decision on the request, the U.S. EPA then announced in the fall that it would begin its own “Rulemaking To Address Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Motor Vehicles,” planning for the adoption of federal regulations by October 2008. Finally, the shot was fired on December 19, 2007, when Stephen Johnson, the U.S. EPA Administrator, held a press conference announcing his agency would not grant a waiver to California’s regulation. At the same time, President Bush signed a new energy bill, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, requiring a fleet average of thirty-five miles per gallon by 2020 and an annual production of thirty-six billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022.[2] In making the announcement, Johnson specifically cited Bush’s recent signing of the bill and said, “The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules. I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone.”

Retaliation came swiftly. Little more than two weeks after Johnson’s announcement, California, along with 15 other states and five environmental groups, petitioned the Ninth Circuit on January 2, 2008, for review of the waiver denial.  In the lawsuit, California will need to make the case that its regulation under Section 209 was necessary to “meet compelling and extraordinary conditions.”  As a coastal state with limited fresh water resources, the effect of climate change on California may indeed be severe, involving rising sea levels, a reduction in the Sierra snow pack, and higher temperatures that would exacerbate the state’s ozone nonattainment problem, which is already the worst in the nation. A recent Stanford University study added fodder to this argument when it found Californians’ health will be disproportionately affected by greenhouse gas emissions, because the state is home to six of the most polluted cities in the United States. California will also need to make the case under section 209, that its standards “will be, in the aggregate, at least as protective of public health and welfare as applicable Federal standards.” To that end, the California Air Resources Board released a January 2, 2008, assessment that concludes the federal law, even when fully implemented, will not be as effective as California’s standards at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new vehicles. Even if California is successful, California’s regulation will have to be modified as it was to apply to 2009 model cars—models that will shortly be coming to market. 

The EPA’s first legal maneuver in response to California’s petition may be to request a transfer from the Ninth Circuit to the more agency-friendly D.C. Circuit. Most challenges of EPA regulations must be filed in the D.C. Circuit—the relevant jurisdictional trigger being whether the action has “nationwide scope or effect.”  While the issue of the waiver makes its way through the courts, the U.S. EPA’s rulemaking will also go forward. To meet its goal of final action by October 2008, the U.S. EPA will have to move quickly, with the public comment period coming by summer 2008 at the latest. 

As these battles are fought, looming on the horizon is a general election in November, and a new federal administration beginning in January of 2009. If the U.S. EPA adopts regulations in October 2008 that do not go as far as the California standards, yet another legal challenge seems almost inevitable, if for no other reason than to stall any final rule until the administration changeover. When the dust does settle, presumably in 2009, the road to mobile source emission reductions will finally be paved.

Michèle Corash is a partner in the international law firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP and a member of the firm’s environmental law practice group. She served as General Counsel of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1979 to 1982 and previously as Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Energy and Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. Ms. Corash has consistently been listed in American Lawyer’s Corporate Counsel among the “Best Lawyers in America for Environmental Law” and in numerous other publications as being at the top of her field. She represents companies on a broad range of state, national and international environmental issues and claims regarding exposure to toxic substances. With the experience of being a former General Counsel of the EPA, Ms. Corash is well versed, and has been for many years, in the evolving area of clean technology, renewable resources and climate change. She advises clients on the many issues now facing corporations as they face the challenges of new technologies, infrastructures, markets and regulatory regimes.

Contact information: mcorash@mofo.com or (415) 268-7124



[1] Adopted in 1975, EPCA provides for the establishment of national corporate average fuel economy (“CAFÉ”) standards that apply to all passenger automobiles and light duty trucks.

[2] Coincidentally, at the same time, the European Commission adopted a proposal for legislation to dramatically reduce the average carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions of new passenger cars by 2012. If adopted by the European Parliament, the proposal requires, by 2012, a fleet average of 130 grams of CO2 emissions per kilometer, with another 10 grams per kilometer reduction from alternative sources such as biofuels and more efficient air-conditioning. Considering Europe’s cars currently emit on average 160 grams of CO2 per kilometer, this represents an almost twenty percent reduction of CO2 emissions in four years.