Cap and Trade Is Alive and Well in New York State

Posted on February 1, 2016 by Virginia C. Robbins

New York participates in the cap-and-trade system operated by 9 northeastern and mid-atlantic states known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that limits carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants. These plants must purchase allowances at auction for each ton of CO2 they emit. An efficient gas-fired plant that produces 225 MWs of electricity emits approximately 1.2 million tons of CO2 a year.

During the adoption process for New York’s final RGGI rule in 2008, power generators predicted serious adverse consequences. These included increased electricity costs for consumers, added operating costs for generators who would never recoup all CO2 allowance costs from the sale of electricity, and concerns about longer term energy transactions due to the uncertainty of allowance prices. 

In comments on a draft RGGI rule, generators requested the State to establish a price cap of $0.75 on the cost of a CO2 allowance to protect consumers from significant price increases and a sunset provision in the event a federal cap-and-trade program were established. The generators also expressed concern about the lack of available control technology for CO2 emissions. 

Fast forward: at the last allowance auction in December 2015, the cost of a CO2 allowance was $7.50. New York generators purchased almost 6 million allowances reaping revenue of more than $44 million for the New York RGGI fund. At the previous auction in September, almost 10 million allowances were purchased at a cost of $59 million. Despite these high allowance costs, the lights are still on in New York. According to data published by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, updated as of January 16, the monthly average retail prices of electricity in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors have decreased between 2008 and 2015, attributable to the success of energy conservation and efficiency programs, the availability of more renewable energy, and the low price of natural gas and oil. 

CO2 emissions from the power sector have decreased by more than 40% in the RGGI states since 2009 due to reductions in the regional CO2 cap. New York has been a significant contributor to those reductions. Revenue from the program of over $1 billion has been invested by the RGGI states in energy conservation and efficiency efforts, clean and renewable energy, direct bill assistance to households and greenhouse gas abatement. Importantly, RGGI also has the potential to assist states in meeting the CO2 reduction goals in EPA’s Climate Action Plan.

However, a report issued on January 20, 2016 by Synapse Energy Economics and the Sierra Club, entitled The RGGI Opportunity, states that RGGI's current requirements are not enough to get the RGGI states to their climate goals in 2030 and beyond (40% reduction in carbon pollution from 1990 levels) and it encourages more energy efficiency programs, increased levels of wind and solar projects, and adding 10 million battery electric vehicles, all of which will result in job creation. 

The RGGI program has been a clear revenue and greenhouse gas reduction success, but there is potential in New York for RGGI funds to be diverted to the general fund.  This last occurred in 2015 when the legislature approved a budget that moved $41 million of RGGI revenue to the general fund to be used for other environmental programs. Environmentalists considered this action a threat to the program. Since RGGI was adopted by executive action, not by statute as was the case in the other RGGI states, the environmentalists’ view is that RGGI funds can only be used for program purposes. The 2015 transfer of RGGI funds to the general fund could subject the program to challenge as a tax on electricity levied without the legislature’s approval. In contrast, the State’s 2016 budget does not include a raid on RGGI funds.

Would similar cap-and-trade programs work as well in other regions of the country?  Yes, but the political will to establish such programs will depend in part on a region’s fuel mix. Since coal-fired power plants emit almost twice as much CO2 as gas-fired plants, the allowance costs for coal plants will be higher, thereby increasing the cost of the electricity they produce and making such facilities less competitive in regions that also have more efficient facilities. That said, if the programs’ revenues are pumped into energy conservation and efficiency programs, consumers could use and pay for less electricity.    

EU Carbon Permits Cheaper Than A Cup of Starbuck’s Cappuccino!

Posted on May 9, 2013 by Stephen Herrmann

The world’s biggest carbon permit market was left in disarray after the European Parliament on April 16, 2013 rejected an emergency plan that would have forced companies to pay more for polluting.

Permits are a key part of the EU Bloc’s cap-and-trade plan to tackle global warming.  The European Parliament rejected a proposal to reduce the short-term supply of carbon permits as a way of pushing up the price.  At the launch of permits in 2005, the cost of a permit was nearly €30 for each ton of carbon emitted.  Following the vote on April 16, 2013, the price plummeted to a little over €2.5 a ton.

Making matters worse, following the vote, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee coordinators failed to set a date for a vote on an amended version.

Not only is the collapse of the cornerstone of its climate policy an embarrassment to the EU, but its failure resonates in other areas of the world.  Australia has fixed a carbon price of $23 a ton until moving to a floating market price following the EU model in 2015.  But, that is being reconsidered.  The EU situation, coupled with the U. S. Senate’s rejection on March 22, 2013 of a bill to impose a fee on carbon, means that the Obama Administration will have an uphill battle for any future proposals for a fee or tax on carbon emissions.

GHG Offset Protocols Upheld in California

Posted on January 30, 2013 by Michael R. Barr

Four California GHG offset protocols survived an important court test last week in Citizens Climate Lobby et al vs. California Air Resources Board (Superior Court of California, County of San Francisco). 

In his January 25, 2013, Statement of Decision, Judge Goldsmith described GHG offsets:
“An offset credit represents a reduction of GHG emissions from an approved uncapped source …Each offset credit represents an emission reduction of one CO2e…  An uncapped source is an entity that is not regulated by the cap-and-trade program.  Not every reduction is eligible for offset credit.  Credits are only awarded to GHG emission reductions carried out pursuant to one of four Protocols promulgated by Respondent [CARB].”

So far, CARB has only approved GHG offset projects in four categories:
    1. Forest Projects
    2. Urban Forest Projects
    3. Livestock Projects
    4. Ozone Depleting Substance Projects

CARB also limited the locations of qualifying GHG offset projects and capped the amount of GHG offset credits entities could use to comply with the state’s GHG cap-and-trade program.

Last year, two environmental groups sued CARB in San Francisco Superior Court to block even this limited offset program, claiming that CARB’s approach to satisfying the “additionality” test for GHG offsets conflicted with the California Global Warming Solution Act of 2006 (aka “AB32”).  The court described the “additionality” test as follows:

“Additionality is the linchpin of an offset program.  A reduction is additional if it would not have occurred without the financial incentive provided by the offset credit.  Additionality is essential to the environmental integrity of an offset program because if reductions are not additional, then the cap-and-trade program will not reduce GHG emissions beyond what would have occurred anyway. . . .”

For its four GHG offset Protocols, CARB adopted a “standard-based approach,” relying on information about the additionality of categories of prospects.  The petitioners preferred that CARB evaluate each offset project’s additionality individually, project-by-project, based on site-specific data and parameters.

CARB vigorously defended its approach to additionality and its GHG offset Protocols in this case.  Several California utilities and coalitions intervened on CARB’s side.  Very significantly, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Nature Conservancy also sided with CARB in this case.

In his January 25 Statement of Decision Judge Goldsmith upheld CARB’s offset Protocols on all issues.  In particular, he found that:

    1. “… as to the Livestock Protocol, the Ozone Depleting Substances Protocol, the Urban Forests Protocol, and the U.S. Forests Protocol, that [CARB] has adequately considered all relevant factors and has demonstrated a rational connection between these factors, the policy implemented, and the purpose of the enabling statutes …the Protocols are not arbitrary and capricious.”
    2. “… Health and Safety Code section 38562, subdivision (d)(2) does not foreclose [CARB] from using standardized mechanisms [for additionality] and it is within the [CARB’s] legislatively delegated lawmaking authority to choose standardized mechanisms …”
    3. “… [CARB’s] use of standardized mechanisms is supported by evidence contained in the administrative record.”
    4. “… Petitioners have failed to demonstrate that the Legislature foreclosed the use of standardized additionality mechanisms or demonstrate that [CARB] acted arbitrarily or capriciously in promulgating additionality standards."

Prompted by CARB and the Intervenors, the court recognized the important roles that GHG offsets play in reducing the cost of GHG emission reductions and promoting innovation.  The court’s 34 page opinion thoroughly analyzes complex legal issues, including the “additionality” issue.  Along the way, the court also accepted CARB’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocols’ Clean Development Mechanism (“CDM”), finding as follows:

“The Court finds the factors which have rendered the CDM problematic in terms of administrative complexity, delay, and cost, to be highly persuasive in concluding that [CARB’s] rejection of the CDM project-by-project approach was justified programmatically and consistent with its legislative grant of discretion.” (Statement, p. 11)

This finding, and much of this court decision, may be of interest to climate practitioners here in the U.S. and overseas.

Defining Additionality: Why the Challenge to California’s Cap-and-Trade Program Fails

Posted on August 20, 2012 by Patrick Dennis

Co-Authored by: Beth A. Coombs, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP

California’s recently approved regulations establishing a Cap-and-Trade Program for the reduction of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions are already under attack in California court.  In March 2012, two citizen groups filed a petition challenging the California Air Resources Board’s (“CARB’s”) regulations that allow entities to quantify GHG emission reductions and take credit for those reductions while, at the same time, making such reductions available to other GHG emitters to purchase as an “offset” to their own greenhouse gas emissions.  The case, Citizens Climate Lobby and Our Children’s Earth Foundation v. California Air Resources Board, Case No. CGC-12-519554, filed in San Francisco County Superior Court, represents the first major legal challenge to California’s landmark Cap-and-Trade Program.

The Cap-and-Trade program is part of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which the California legislature adopted in 2006 under Assembly Bill 32.  The bill required statewide GHG emissions to be reduced to their prior 1990 levels by 2020.  Cal. Health & Saf. Code § 38550.  As part of its overall statutory scheme, AB 32 vested the CARB with the discretion to decide whether to adopt regulations employing “market based compliance mechanisms.”  Health & Safety Code §38570.  Exercising that discretion,  CARB, through a multi-year process involving extensive public comment, promulgated regulations establishing offset credits through protocols specific to certain industries or business operations.  It is these offset protocols that are now under attack.

Petitioners claim that the protocols adopted by the CARB allow GHG emission reductions that are not “additional.” This, they say, violates AB 32’s mandate that offsets must be “in addition to any greenhouse gas emission reduction otherwise required by law or regulation, and any other greenhouse gas emission reduction that otherwise would occur.”  Cal. Health & Saf. Code § 38562(d)(emphasis supplied).  However, Petitioners’ interpretation of “additionality” is inappropriately and prohibitively narrow.  For example, under Petitioners’ view of AB 32’s requirements, the offset protocol for the use of anaerobic digesters that reduce GHG emissions (primarily methane) by treating manure at dairies and hog farms allows in “non-additional” projects because some farms within the United States already use digesters—despite the fact that (1) farms currently using digesters would not be credited under the program, (2) the use of digesters on farms is still rare, and (3) most digesters currently in use were installed under grants for increasing energy efficiency.  As another example, Petitioners argue that the offset protocol for the destruction of ozone depleting substances (“ODS”) allows crediting for projects that otherwise would occur because while less than 1.5% of recoverable U.S. sourced ODS is currently being destroyed, there are still ‘business reasons” aside from offset incentives for destroying ODS.  And they point to the General Electric Company as an example of a company that gains “goodwill” with the consumer public by voluntarily destroying ODS.

This prohibitively narrow view of AB 32’s offset requirements for “additionality” effectively nullifies the California legislature’s grant of regulatory authority to CARB to create an offset program, because no such program could comply with the strictures laid out by Petitioners.  Indeed, it is Petitioners’ philosophical disagreement with the legislature’s decision to allow an offset program that underlies this litigation.  Two members of one of the groups challenging the offsets long ago advised CARB that, “[i]t is critically important for ARB to resist the temptation to make offsets part of California’s cap-and-trade program.”  Laurie Williams & Allan Zabel, Comment on Proposed GHG Offset Protocols, 9, Dec. 13, 2010, Comment 521 for California Cap-and-Trade Program.  But this fundamental disagreement about whether offsets should be part of a government greenhouse gas reduction program is necessarily a policy decision – not one that should be decided by the courts – and the legislature clearly gave CARB the discretion to adopt the protocols.  

The legal problem with Petitioners’ attack is that they sidestep the critical definition of “additional” that CARB adopted as part of the same regulatory package that contains the offset protocols.  That definition provides that:

"in the context of offset credits, [GHG] emission reductions or removals that exceed any [GHG] reduction or removals otherwise required by law, regulation or legally binding mandate, and that exceed any [GHG] reductions or removals that would otherwise occur in a conservative business-as-usual scenario.”  Cal. Code of Regs. tit. 17, Section 95802(a)(3). 

The four protocols challenged by the litigation – livestock (digestors), ozone depleting substances, forests and urban forests – were all developed through a lengthy and thorough public process involving stakeholders from all perspectives on the political spectrum.  In each case, data and research were devoted to determining what “business as usual” meant with respect to GHG emissions reductions.  And where there were clear additional steps that very few, or almost none, of the industry was taking regarding GHG emissions reductions, then protocols were developed to recognize such steps as potentially qualifying for offsets.  There seems little doubt that the protocols easily meet the CARB definition of “additional” and that may be why Petitioners chose to avoid a challenge of the regulatory definition, and instead simply to claim that the protocols violate the statute.  But their failure to challenge the definition in the same regulatory package seems like a transparent attempt to avoid the more lenient “arbitrary and capricious” standard of review for the adoption of most regulatory programs in California, and to try for the more rigorous “de novo” standard of review.

All of these issues are laid out in the briefs that have been filed by Petitioners, CARB, and the interveners which include the Climate Action Registry (the original developer of the protocols), a business interveners group which includes many of the large utilities (Southern California Edison, for example, is a member), and the Environmental Defense Fund.  The Nature Conservancy has also submitted an amicus brief. It is certainly telling that a coalition of major utilities, the Environmental Defense Fund, and The Nature Conservancy have all lined up to take the same position of defending CARB’s adoption of the four offset protocols. 

The Court has scheduled November 6, 2012 as the date to hear the matter.

Legal Winds from New Directions Buffet California’s GHG Cap-and-Trade Program

Posted on June 28, 2012 by Michael R. Barr

Late in the fall of 2011, the California Air Resources Board adopted its groundbreaking cap-and-trade rules (CTR) for greenhouse gasses. ARB faced stiff headwinds at every step.  This month, one lingering legal tempest subsided while a new legal gale appeared on the horizon.  Each involves novel environmental justice claims and could snuff out CTR and similar programs in other states.

First, balmier breezes for CTR:  in a decision filed June 19, 2012, the California Court of Appeals rejected a 2009 mandamus petition filed by the Association of Irritated Residents (AIR) and other groups and upheld ARB’s climate plan under the “California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006” (Cal. Health & Safety Code §38500 et seq., also known as “AB 32”).   The court recognized the magnitude of ARB’s challenge under AB 32 and held: “After reviewing the record before us, we are satisfied that the [ARB] has approached its difficult task in conformity with [AB 32], and that the [GHG] measures that it has recommended reflect the exercise of sound judgment based upon substantial evidence.  Further research and experience likely will suggest modifications to the blueprint drawn in the [ARB] scoping plan, but the plan‘s adoption in 2009 was in no respect arbitrary or capricious.” (p. 22).

In its 2009 mandamus petition, AIR et al. had challenged ARB’s overall plan to implement AB32, partly on the grounds that the plan’s CTR element did not adequately protect already overburdened local communities. The petitioners preferred “direct regulation” of GHGs at sources, another major element of ARB’s plan.  They asserted that the full benefits of AB 32 to communities surrounding major sources could only be obtained by controlling GHG emissions at each GHG source, rather than by adopting the CTR.  CTR would allow GHG sources to acquire and trade GHG allowances and/or GHG offsets resulting from GHG reductions in other communities, states, provinces or countries. 

Now, a new tempest:  earlier this month, AIR et al. filed a new complaint with EPA under title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act alleging that ARB had discriminated against African/American, Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander residents throughout California by adopting and implementing CTR. The title 6 complainants ask EPA to require, as a condition of continuing to provide federal financial assistance to ARB, that ARB reverse its decision to approve the CTR and adopt less discriminatory alternatives.  It is impossible to say how or when EPA will respond. 

Forecast:  ARB will continue to try to implement CTR on schedule in spite of all legal flurries. 

A lot is at stake now.  Under the CTR, ARB plans to conduct its first auction of GHG allowances in November of this year, which could raise tens of millions of dollars. Starting January 1, 2013, refineries, power plants and other major GHG sources throughout California must properly account for all of their GHG emissions and later surrender qualifying GHG allowances and/or GHG offsets to ARB for every ton of GHGs emitted during the first compliance period (2013-14).  Later this month, ARB plans to link its CTR to a similar program in the Canadian Province of Québec.  Please see the June 11, 2012 ARB Notice.

But all regulated and other interested parties are left with new questions about how these legal winds may affect:

•    The willingness of regulated companies and GHG traders to bid tens of millions or more for GHG  allowances at ARB auctions.
•    The willingness of other states to adopt cap-and-trade programs and link them to the ARB CTR.  U.S. states are now vulnerable to federal title VI complaints as soon as they adopt their own cap-and-trade programs.
•    The ability of ARB to contain the costs of AB 32 and minimize leakage by adopting the CTR and linking it to other cap-and-trade programs, as provided by AB 32.
•    The continued ability of California to maintain its own climate program and achieve its climate goals.

It surely looks like more westerlies are approaching the CTR on the legal radar.

Here's a Suprise -- A Cap-and-Trade System For Nutrients Would Substantially Decrease the Cost of Nutrient Reductions in Chesapeake Bay

Posted on May 8, 2012 by Seth Jaffe

Yesterday, the Chesapeake Bay Commission released a study showing that implementation of a nutrient trading system would dramatically reduce the cost to achieve nutrient reductions in Chesapeake Bay. Pardon me if I seem to be posting a lot of dog bites man stories recently.

Although it should not come as a surprise that a trading system would permit nutrient reductions to be attained most cost-effectively, the scope of the benefit is worth noting. If trading were allowed basin-wide, and among both point and agricultural non-point sources, costs are projected to decrease by about 50% of the non-trading compliance costs.

Since I have faced this issue in Massachusetts, I found it even more noteworthy that, if trading were expanded to include regulated urban stormwater sources, compliance costs are expected to be reduced by about 80% over the non-trading scenario. The report’s explanation is both simple and cogent:

Implementing urban stormwater BMPs tends to be a much less cost-effective way of reducing nutrient loads than agricultural BMPs.

To which I say, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I just hope that EPA does not limit its review of this report to the Chesapeake Bay itself, but considers its implications more broadly in the context of stormwater regulation in other areas.

New Mexico Promulgates a Cap and Trade Rule

Posted on November 23, 2010 by Larry Ausherman

Earlier this month, the State of New Mexico adopted a rule designed to cap greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions in New Mexico and implement the State’s participation in a cap and trade market based on the design guidelines of the Western Climate Initiative (“WCI”). But it is too soon to tell how the New Mexico GHG rule will shake out. The future of cap and trade in New Mexico depends on many developments that range from the election of a new governor who will take office in January 2011, the fate of California’s cap and trade program, and the potential that the New Mexico GHG rulemaking will be appealed. An additional New Mexico only greenhouse gas cap and reduction proposal will also be considered by the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (“EIB”) in early December. 

 

 

            On November 2, 2010, after lengthy and contentious debate, EIB narrowly adopted the GHG rule that was proposed by the New Mexico Environment Department (“NMED”) last spring. The rule provides for a cap and trade program for certain GHG emissions in New Mexico that could start as early as 2012. The program would not be initiated without participation of other states with GHG emissions sufficient to provide a base of at least 100 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions.  This requirement is designed to avoid the State’s implementing a trading program alone. For all practical purposes, because the trigger for implementation is a base of at least 100 million tons, the New Mexico cap and trade program will not be able to move forward without implementation of the California program. Of the 7 initial participating WCI states, only New Mexico and California are moving forward at this time to implement a cap and trade program.        

 

The New Mexico GHG rule would apply to about 63 large industrial facilities that emit GHGs in the State. The affected facilities include primarily power plants and large oil and gas operations. After the rule becomes effective, the affected facilities would be required to reduce emissions by 2% annually until 2020 or be required to acquire offset credits for emissions from other jurisdictions or external trading programs. The State would initially provide allocations for baseline emissions for those currently existing regulated facilities without charge.  

 

 

            Also in November, the EIB adopted mandatory reporting and verification rules. The rules require sources emitting more than 10,000 metric tons of CO2e emissions to report emissions. Those sources with greater than 25,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions are required to obtain third-party verification of emissions.   This rule is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2011, regardless of whether the cap and trade rule goes into effect. NMED estimates that 130 to 150 sources will be affected by the reporting rule. 

 

 

            Challenges to New Mexico’s GHG rule are likely. The margin of the EIB vote on the rule was narrow, four to three in favor. Moreover, on the day EIB adopted the rule, the New Mexico voters elected a new governor, Susanna Martinez. The Republican governor-elect’s campaign positions included opposition to WCI and the GHC initiatives of the current Democratic governor, Bill Richardson. It seems likely that the new GHC rule will not meet with favor in a Martinez administration. The change of administration is particularly important because to date, Governor Richardson’s support for New Mexico GHG initiatives has been critical to their adoption. New Mexico’s participation in WCI was initiated by Executive Order, and NMED’s efforts to implement the WCI cap and trade program in the state legislature have been unsuccessful. 

 

 

            In addition to the recently adopted GHC cap and trade and reporting and verification rules that were proposed by NMED, an additional petition by The New Energy Economy that would put a cap on GHG emissions in New Mexico is scheduled for decision by the EIB in early December. The New Energy Economy petition asks EIB to mandate that large facilities emitting greenhouse gases must reduce their emissions by 3% every year from 2010 levels, regardless of the development of a cap and trade market in the region.   If adopted, the program would sunset in 2020, and also be suspended in any year that a source begins reducing GHG emissions pursuant to a multi-jurisdictional or national GHG reduction program.

 

 

            The future will tell us which of the two votes taken on November 2 will prove most important. Some key opponents to the New Mexico GHC rule have expressed support for a federal cap and trade effort, but other very significant concerns remain, particularly regarding GHG proposals that are merely state or regional. In New Mexico, as in the rest of the country, the GHG trading market is far from open.

Climate Legislation Is Dead (For Now): Long Live Conventional Pollutants

Posted on July 28, 2010 by Seth Jaffe

Climate change legislation is dead for now. I won’t pretend it’s not depressing, even though I avoid the political channels and ignore the rhetoric. For those of us who haven’t refudiated climate change science, it’s a victory for the pessimists and evidence that Congress has a hard time addressing long-range problems, even if consequential.

With respect to regulation of GHG, it’s the worst of both worlds and no one should be happy (which is why I held out hope until the end that cooler heads would prevail). We’re still going to have regulation of GHG, the mechanism being EPA’s recently promulgated Tailoring Rule for GHG. One word. Ugh. Does this really make climate skeptics happy? Do they really think that they will somehow succeed in rolling back the Tailoring Rule? I don’t think so. On the other hand, we don’t have an economy-wide cap-and-trade or carbon tax regime. Are environmentalists happy? I still don’t think so. 

I’m left feeling a little like Rodney King. Certainly, the issue isn’t going to go away before the next Congress is sworn in.

As I have noted before, however, problems with climate change legislation don’t mean that Congress can’t enact legislation further regulating traditional pollutants. The three-pollutant bill now before the Senate already has a Republic co-sponsor, Lamar Alexander. Now, according to a report in E&E Daily, even Senator Inhofe is stating that he’s interested in working with Democrats to move three-pollutant legislation. Given the failure to move GHG legislation, hell is likely to get hotter before freezing over, but if Inhofe can really be brought on board, there’s no reason why legislation couldn’t pass.

Three-pollutant legislation shares one significant feature with the GHG issue. Like GHG regulation, efficient regulation is hampered by limitations in existing law, as we saw with the D.C. Circuit’s rejection of the trading regime in the CAIR regulations, and EPA’s much more limited trading program in the Transport Rule. Senator Voinovich, another Republican that three-pollutant legislation supporters would like to have with them, noted as much, saying that the transport rule would be a "stringent and inflexible regime." New legislation could provide for a more robust trading regime. We’ll see if that’s enough to bring Republicans on board.

I sure hope so. Right now, all we’ve got is a GHG regulatory program that won’t do much for climate change, but will cause my clients endless headaches, and a Transport Rule that’s probably the best EPA can do on traditional interstate pollution, but not nearly as cost-effective as it might be with new legislative authority. I remain an optimist, but sometimes it’s difficult.

Carbon Offset Credits Available Now

Posted on December 15, 2009 by Patrick Dennis

Despite the widespread publicity surrounding the actions being undertaken by EPA and in Congress to address greenhouse gas emissions and the potential for a cap and trade program at the federal level, few lawyers are aware that rigorously verified carbon offset credits are currently available for purchase by third parties. Generally, carbon offset credits are issued in exchange for a project proponent’s (e.g., a property owner or other participating entity) implementation of practices and programs which sequester carbon or otherwise reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

In some types of projects, CO2 (carbon dioxide) is sequestered in the leaves, trunks and roots of trees on the property, converted into carbon, and held in the vegetation and soil on the property. By growing a forest or managing a forest in such a way that it sequesters more carbon than would otherwise be held on the property, the project proponent becomes eligible for carbon offset credits, which can then be sold or optioned to third parties.

Carbon offset credits are issued not just for forest projects, but also for greenhouse gas reduction projects involving coal mine methane, landfill gases, livestock gases, and nitric oxide emissions. The carbon offset market incentivizes greenhouse gas sequestration and reduction, and provides a product to third parties looking for a way to offset their carbon emissions or otherwise satisfy regulatory requirements.

 

There are currently few organizations that issue any type of evaluation and registration for carbon offset credits. One of these organizations, the Climate Action Reserve is a non-profit based in Los Angeles, California which has registered a variety of types of greenhouse gas projects and is currently issuing carbon offset credits to project participants. The Chicago Climate Exchange also provides a cap and trade system for six greenhouse gases, with global affiliates and projects worldwide. There are other, regional and specialized programs that are much more narrow in their applicability and the types of emissions they verify.  

The Climate Action Reserve’s carbon offset credits are the result of a rigorous, third-party verification process to quantify and verify the net greenhouse gas emissions sequestration on projects based upon hundreds of pages of protocols which address details ranging from the modeling of carbon stored in live trees, dead wood and wood products, to annual monitoring requirements to determine reversals of carbon sequestration.  In the case of forest projects, covenants and contracts require that the project proponent (e.g. the property owner) abide by the protocols and sequester carbon for at least 100 years. 

A variety of legal issues arise about how best to document a project proponent’s commitments over the 100 year period, whether that be through contracts, covenants, restrictive easements, conservation easements, mortgages or some combination thereof. While California’s statutory scheme is relatively clear about what types of recorded documents run with the land, other States provide less guidance. See, e.g., California Civil Code 1460 et seq. Likewise, legal documentation must address a variety of issues including subordination to future encumbrances; future transfers of any subject property; reversals or significant carbon loss in the event of natural disasters (e.g., forest fires, earthquakes, etc.); and remedies in the event of intentional acts in violation the project proponent’s commitments (e.g., failure to sequester adequate carbon stocks).

After a project proponent complies with the documentation requirements, registers its project with the applicable entity and been issued carbon offset credits, it is then available to sell or option such credits to third parties. The market for these credits is growing. Currently, corporations and entities who have made voluntary greenhouse gas reduction commitments have purchased these credits to help fulfill such commitments. Obviously, if a mandatory cap and trade system is implemented either in California or on a nationwide basis, then such carbon offset credits will become more valuable. Likewise, if federal, state and local authorities, courts or other jurisdictions require project developers to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions, carbon offset credits are likely to become more expensive.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher provides pro bono representation to the Climate Action Reserve. Posting submitted by: Patrick W. Dennis, Charles H. Haake and Shireen B. Rahnema of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Carbon Offset Credits Available Now

Posted on December 15, 2009 by Patrick Dennis

Despite the widespread publicity surrounding the actions being undertaken by EPA and in Congress to address greenhouse gas emissions and the potential for a cap and trade program at the federal level, few lawyers are aware that rigorously verified carbon offset credits are currently available for purchase by third parties. Generally, carbon offset credits are issued in exchange for a project proponent’s (e.g., a property owner or other participating entity) implementation of practices and programs which sequester carbon or otherwise reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

In some types of projects, CO2 (carbon dioxide) is sequestered in the leaves, trunks and roots of trees on the property, converted into carbon, and held in the vegetation and soil on the property. By growing a forest or managing a forest in such a way that it sequesters more carbon than would otherwise be held on the property, the project proponent becomes eligible for carbon offset credits, which can then be sold or optioned to third parties.

Carbon offset credits are issued not just for forest projects, but also for greenhouse gas reduction projects involving coal mine methane, landfill gases, livestock gases, and nitric oxide emissions. The carbon offset market incentivizes greenhouse gas sequestration and reduction, and provides a product to third parties looking for a way to offset their carbon emissions or otherwise satisfy regulatory requirements.

 

There are currently few organizations that issue any type of evaluation and registration for carbon offset credits. One of these organizations, the Climate Action Reserve is a non-profit based in Los Angeles, California which has registered a variety of types of greenhouse gas projects and is currently issuing carbon offset credits to project participants. The Chicago Climate Exchange also provides a cap and trade system for six greenhouse gases, with global affiliates and projects worldwide. There are other, regional and specialized programs that are much more narrow in their applicability and the types of emissions they verify.  

The Climate Action Reserve’s carbon offset credits are the result of a rigorous, third-party verification process to quantify and verify the net greenhouse gas emissions sequestration on projects based upon hundreds of pages of protocols which address details ranging from the modeling of carbon stored in live trees, dead wood and wood products, to annual monitoring requirements to determine reversals of carbon sequestration.  In the case of forest projects, covenants and contracts require that the project proponent (e.g. the property owner) abide by the protocols and sequester carbon for at least 100 years. 

A variety of legal issues arise about how best to document a project proponent’s commitments over the 100 year period, whether that be through contracts, covenants, restrictive easements, conservation easements, mortgages or some combination thereof. While California’s statutory scheme is relatively clear about what types of recorded documents run with the land, other States provide less guidance. See, e.g., California Civil Code 1460 et seq. Likewise, legal documentation must address a variety of issues including subordination to future encumbrances; future transfers of any subject property; reversals or significant carbon loss in the event of natural disasters (e.g., forest fires, earthquakes, etc.); and remedies in the event of intentional acts in violation the project proponent’s commitments (e.g., failure to sequester adequate carbon stocks).

After a project proponent complies with the documentation requirements, registers its project with the applicable entity and been issued carbon offset credits, it is then available to sell or option such credits to third parties. The market for these credits is growing. Currently, corporations and entities who have made voluntary greenhouse gas reduction commitments have purchased these credits to help fulfill such commitments. Obviously, if a mandatory cap and trade system is implemented either in California or on a nationwide basis, then such carbon offset credits will become more valuable. Likewise, if federal, state and local authorities, courts or other jurisdictions require project developers to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions, carbon offset credits are likely to become more expensive.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher provides pro bono representation to the Climate Action Reserve. Posting submitted by: Patrick W. Dennis, Charles H. Haake and Shireen B. Rahnema of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

EPA Tries to Silence Employees Who (Weakly) Criticize Cap-And-Trade

Posted on November 11, 2009 by Rodney Brown, Jr.

Obama’s EPA finds itself embroiled in a controversy that recalls the Bush Administration: trying to control what the agency’s employees can say about climate change. Today’s controversy is more limited, and more nuanced, than earlier ones. EPA is no longer asking its employees to deny that climate change exists. Instead, EPA has asked two of its attorneys to stop identifying themselves as EPA experts when they publicly criticize a cap-and-trade system for regulating greenhouse gases. Still, I wonder why EPA cares.

EPA previously allowed the attorneys to criticize cap-and-trade as private citizens. The two wrote letters and opinion pieces claiming cap-and-trade doesn’t work, primarily because companies can buy “offsets” that allow them to continue operations without reducing their emissions. They claim a carbon tax would work better than cap-and-trade.

Their writings have not had much effect on the debate in Congress and elsewhere. So the two recently switched from the written word to YouTube, posting a carefully produced video in which they more assertively cite their EPA credentials and experience to justify their critique of cap-and-trade. And as Grist recently noted, EPA took the bait.

EPA should stop worrying about the two attorneys. The two fail to recognize that cap-and-trade works fine when it’s done right. In fact, EPA itself runs one of the most successful cap-and-trade programs in the world. Several years ago, EPA needed to reduce smog in the eastern US. Instead of using typical command-and-control regulations, EPA created the NOx Budget Trading Program. Just last month, EPA released a report on the results achieved by that program. According to EPA, “summertime NOx emissions from power plants and large industrial sources were down by 62 percent compared to year 2000 levels and 75 percent lower than in 1990.”

And the emitters were able to achieve these reductions at a lower cost by trading with other emitters who had cheaper options for compliance. Smithsonian magazine reported a recent estimate that businesses paid only $3 billion to achieve emission reductions that would have cost them $25 billion under traditional command-and-control regulation.

The two attorneys don’t even need to worry about companies finding ways to avoid compliance with the system. Last year, only two emitters failed to comply out of 2,568, even then by only a modest amount. This is not a system full of loopholes.

Finally, the two attorneys ignore the fact that their own agency, under the Obama administration, will get to write the rules for how companies comply with a carbon cap-and-trade system. Both the Waxman-Markey and Boxer-Kerry bills require EPA to write rules regulating how companies can use “offsets” to comply with the system. Surely the agency can write rules that make this cap-and-trade system work as well as the NOx system the agency already runs.

And one more thing: As Grist reports, many experts think that the alternative — a carbon tax — may not achieve the emission reductions we need. We can only guess what carbon price might lead to the right amount of emission reductions. We’ll get the tax revenues we predict, but not necessarily the carbon reductions.

So the two attorneys should lighten up on their criticisms. But even if they don’t, EPA should stop worrying about them so much.

Derivatives Trading in Climate Change Legislation

Posted on June 2, 2009 by Stephen M. Bruckner

ACES & Eights? Swaps and Other Derivatives in Climate Change Legislation

 

By

 

Stephen M. Bruckner

 

            On May 21, 2009, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy & Security Act (ACES), by a 33-25 vote. As the Committee touts its efforts on the much-examined markup of H.R. 2454 (aka, “Waxman-Markey discussion draft”), coalitions from each side of the ideological spectrum assail the legislation as toothless and watered-down, or a disaster for the American economy.  The bill has a long way to go, including review by other House committees and, of course, the Senate, so it may be premature for Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to bestow the mantle of “decisive and historic action.

Buried within ACES’ cap-and-trade emissions plan are a series of provisions that detail how big banks, hedge funds, and traders can use complex securities and derivatives to profit from the new carbon allowance market.  We all watched aghast as “credit default swaps” and similar financial alchemy led to the melt down of Wall Street and the credit markets. Do these types of investments have a proper role in climate change and energy legislation?  In a bill that already has plenty of political and policy hurdles, why add financial regulation?

Title III, Subtitle D of ACES, entitled “Carbon Market Assurance”, amends the Federal Power Act to create a financial instrument known as a “regulated allowance derivative”, which can include a “swap agreement”, and directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish regulations for these financial vehicles.  Title III, Subtitle E of ACES, entitled "Additional Market Assurance", addresses transactions in derivatives involving energy commodities such as coal, gasoline, and natural gas. These provisions open the door for financial institutions to partake in the new market created by ACES’ emission allowances.  It allows companies, funds, and traders to purchase and trade emission allowances, and to devise complex derivative instruments to sell and trade, picking up commissions and charging fees along the way.  As a result, the theoretical value of the allowances and their derivatives will be determined, in large part, by the manipulation and speculation of financial parties with little or no concern for carbon emission standards or federal climate policy beyond immediate monetary gain. 

Simply put, the emerging market for new carbon allowances created by the bill could be (at best) undermined or (at worst) commandeered by financial contrivances that are already partially responsible for the nation’s current financial instability.  The fundamental value of the new cap-and-trade 'products' will necessarily fluctuate as the emissions market adjusts and stabilizes.  If big banks and hedge funds can use puts, swaps, options and other speculative instruments, which the federal government has yet to capably regulate, the stability of emissions allowances and carbon trading could be placed at risk.  The chaos visited upon the economy at large by these and other financial instruments should cause hesitation and serious consideration as to whether they belong in Congress' first attempt at comprehensive climate change legislation. 

Derivatives Trading in Climate Change Legislation

Posted on June 2, 2009 by Stephen M. Bruckner

ACES & Eights? Swaps and Other Derivatives in Climate Change Legislation

 

By

 

Stephen M. Bruckner

 

            On May 21, 2009, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R. 2454, the American Clean Energy & Security Act (ACES), by a 33-25 vote. As the Committee touts its efforts on the much-examined markup of H.R. 2454 (aka, “Waxman-Markey discussion draft”), coalitions from each side of the ideological spectrum assail the legislation as toothless and watered-down, or a disaster for the American economy.  The bill has a long way to go, including review by other House committees and, of course, the Senate, so it may be premature for Committee Chairman Henry Waxman to bestow the mantle of “decisive and historic action.

Buried within ACES’ cap-and-trade emissions plan are a series of provisions that detail how big banks, hedge funds, and traders can use complex securities and derivatives to profit from the new carbon allowance market.  We all watched aghast as “credit default swaps” and similar financial alchemy led to the melt down of Wall Street and the credit markets. Do these types of investments have a proper role in climate change and energy legislation?  In a bill that already has plenty of political and policy hurdles, why add financial regulation?

Title III, Subtitle D of ACES, entitled “Carbon Market Assurance”, amends the Federal Power Act to create a financial instrument known as a “regulated allowance derivative”, which can include a “swap agreement”, and directs the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to establish regulations for these financial vehicles.  Title III, Subtitle E of ACES, entitled "Additional Market Assurance", addresses transactions in derivatives involving energy commodities such as coal, gasoline, and natural gas. These provisions open the door for financial institutions to partake in the new market created by ACES’ emission allowances.  It allows companies, funds, and traders to purchase and trade emission allowances, and to devise complex derivative instruments to sell and trade, picking up commissions and charging fees along the way.  As a result, the theoretical value of the allowances and their derivatives will be determined, in large part, by the manipulation and speculation of financial parties with little or no concern for carbon emission standards or federal climate policy beyond immediate monetary gain. 

Simply put, the emerging market for new carbon allowances created by the bill could be (at best) undermined or (at worst) commandeered by financial contrivances that are already partially responsible for the nation’s current financial instability.  The fundamental value of the new cap-and-trade 'products' will necessarily fluctuate as the emissions market adjusts and stabilizes.  If big banks and hedge funds can use puts, swaps, options and other speculative instruments, which the federal government has yet to capably regulate, the stability of emissions allowances and carbon trading could be placed at risk.  The chaos visited upon the economy at large by these and other financial instruments should cause hesitation and serious consideration as to whether they belong in Congress' first attempt at comprehensive climate change legislation. 

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.