EPA's Decision to Deny Ozone Petition Based in Reality

Combating ozone pollution is really about time.  When I was back at Ohio EPA, we had countless meeting discussing how Ohio could (or whether it could) accelerate progress dramatically in reducing ozone pollution.  During that time we would discuss "on-the-books controls" versus new state initiatives.  

"On-the-book controls" referred to a suite of federal air pollution regulations that were put in place to help combat air pollution, including ozone.  The regulations target the two largest contributors to ozone pollution-vehicles and power plants.  The "on-the-books controls" include:

All of these federal air regulations will continue to be phased in over time greatly reducing the precursors that lead to the creation of ozone (smog). The full benefit of some of these major regulations won't be seen for another 15 years as the vehicle fleet turns over. In addition, CSAPR has just emerged from litigation and the full reductions have not taken place.

What we learned in our discussions eight years ago was that the state's had almost no ability to significantly reduce ozone pollution beyond what would be attributable to these federal regulations. At the time, the deadlines for compliance simply didn't match up with the process for phasing in the federal regulations.  The states needed time.  

Flash forward almost 8 years later and it appears those federal regulations are having a dramatic effect on reducing ozone.  The picture above is taken from a story on Gizmodo regarding improvements to air quality in the last decade.  (Click here to see the very cool video showing reductions).

EPA Denies Request for Redesignation of Attainment Areas for Ozone Standard

On August 14, 2014, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy denied the 2013 Sierra Club petition that requested U.S. EPA to redesignate as nonattainment 57 areas for violations the 2008 national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) of ozone.  

Under EPA regulations, ozone levels are based on a three year average of the 8-hour ozone concentration.  The concentrations are averaged because weather plays an important role in the creation of ozone (i.e. hot summers = more ozone).  The averaging is intended to smooth out the variations that may occur due to weather.  

In the Administrator's McCarthy's letter denying the petition, she says one of the reason for the denial is to give the states more time.  She specifically cites forthcoming reductions due to federal regulations already in place.  

EPA states that emissions of the ozone precursors are expected to decline significantly:

  • NOx is expected to decline by 29 percent from 2011 through 2018; and
  • VOCs are expected to decline by 10 percent from 2011 through 2018

(Click here for EPA's extended response setting forth the reasons for denying the petition)

EPA's decision to deny the petition was sharply criticized by environmental groups.  However, redesignation to nonattainment would force the states to adopt additional reductions beyond these federal "on-the-books" controls.  Those state regulations are no where near as cost effective at reducing ozone pollution and would likely not significantly improve air quality.

EPA decision to give time to the states to allow federal regulations to take hold is based upon practical reality.  The last decade has shown dramatic improvements.  More reductions are locked in and the states would have little ability to accelerate those improvements.

 

Power Plant Reductions- EPA Gets it Wrong....Again

On August 21st, the D.C. Circuit Court vacated U.S. EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) also known at the "Transport Rule."  This is not the first time EPA has had its power plant pollution reduction rule vacated.  The Transport Rule was the replacement to the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) which was also struck down by the Court in December 2008.

Here was a paragraph from a blog post I wrote when EPA released the Transport Rule

After two years of development, EPA has released its proposed Transport Rule and is very confident it can withstand legal challenge. They stated in the presentation that their lawyers are confident the structure of the Transport Rule will meet the Courts mandate by ensuring elimination of "significant contribution."

I remember attending this presentation which was made by senior officials with EPA.  EPA said their lawyers had combed through the CAIR decision to make sure the had a lock solid replacement rule.  After the D.C. Circuit Court ruling, the EPA lawyers better go back to the drawing board. 

 Why the Court Struck Down the Transport Rule

The Court found two fundamental flaws with EPA's Transport Rule:

  1. Greater Reductions Required than a State's Contribution to Downwind Non-Attainment-  Under the Clean Air Act, State's are required to eliminate their contribution to non-attainment of federal air quality standards in downwind States.  Under the Transport Rule, EPA quantified State's downwind contribution, but then imposed controls on power plants that were based on cost.  In some cases EPA admitted the reductions were more than the State's contribution to downwind non-attainment.  The Court said EPA had no right to force reductions beyond a State's downwind contribution even if EPA found the reductions to be cost effective.
  2. EPA Ignored the Federalist Structure of the Clean Air Act-  Under the Transport Rule, EPA determined the contribution to downwind non-attainment and then immediately imposed specific reductions on sources in those states.  The Court said that EPA should have stopped after it quantified each State's contribution to downwind non-attainment and allowed each State to determine on its own how to eliminate that contribution. Each State should have been given an opportunity to chose its own mix of new air pollution reductions through the State Implementation Plan (SIP) process.

The Court decided to keep CAIR in place while EPA tries to figure out a legally defensible rule requiring reductions from power plants.  CAIR now remains in place after it was supposedly vacated by the Courts four years ago.

Implications from EPA's Ruling

It will be very difficult to craft a legally defensible rule that reduces power plant emissions on a regional basis in order to address the "significant contribution" provisions of the Clean Air Act.  To be fair to EPA, the Agency appears to get conflicting guidance from the Courts.

The Court in the CAIR ruling was sharply critical of EPA because it allowed power plants to avoid necessary reductions through its emission trading provisions.  The provisions of the Transport Rule were designed to specifically address the flaws identified by the Court.  EPA felt the Transport Rule addressed the fundamental flaw of CAIR by ensuring each State eliminated its contribution to downwind non-attainment.  But after two years of evaluation, EPA still issued an invalid rule.

In reaction to the ruling, EPA may give up on designing a regional reduction program for power plants.  It may simply define each State's significant contribution and leave it up to the State to find the necessary reductions.  If it goes this route it will shift the burden onto the State's in having to make the really hard choices in terms of emission reductions.  It is much easier for the State's to simply implement rules mandated by the federal EPA.  Otherwise, the States are left to pick the winners and losers in terms of costly new controls on companies within its borders.   

It also looks like it will be very difficult to develop any sort of power plant rule that has emission trading. EPA would likely have to go back to Congress to obtain clear authority under the Clean Air Act.  Any change to the Clean Air Act seems highly unlikely in today's political environment.  This is a shame because emission trading has been consistently found to be far more cost effective than traditional command and control regulation.

EPA Transport Rule- State Budgets Explained

U.S. EPA has released its CAIR replacement program called the "Transport Rule."  In a previous post I discussed EPA's efforts under the Transport Rule to address the Court's ruling striking down the CAIR rule.  After listening to a presentation by EPA, the structure of the Transport Rule is a little clearer.

The major issue identified by the Court was that CAIR failed to ensure that upwind states significant contribution to the air quality issues in downwind states would truly be eliminated.  The court ruled that utilities in a state could make no actual reductions, they simply could satisfy their regulatory obligations by purchasing allowances (pollution permits) under the cap and trade program. 

After two years of development, EPA has released its proposed Transport Rule and is very confident it can withstand legal challenge.  They stated in the presentation that their lawyers are confident the structure of the Transport Rule will meet the Courts mandate by ensuring elimination of "significant contribution."

Here is how the program works.  Each state has a firm budget which serves as a state specific  cap on emissions.  At the end of the trading year, U.S. EPA will review emissions information from each state and see if any exceeded their caps.  If a state is below the cap, nothing happens.  If the state is above, EPA will embark on a more extensive review to determine which companies within the state were responsible for exceeding the cap. 

Companies responsible for exceeding the state cap by failing to actually reduce emissions significantly enough, will be required to turn in extra allowances based upon their pro rata share of the amount the State's cap was exceeded.  Perhaps an oversimplified example would help:

 Assuming the state of Ohio has only three utilities companies operating in the State.  Hypothetically, it has a State budget under the Transport Rule of 90 tons.  In 2014, actual emissions in the State (120 tons) exceed its  budget by 30 tons. 

The slide shows that two companies will be required to surrender extra allowances equivalent to the amount the Ohio exceeded its budget.

Certainly this is far more complicated than the original CAIR rule struck down by the Courts.  Let's hope the Transport Rule can withstand legal challenges. Otherwise, States will face a complex mess in trying to meet federal air quality standards.  Also, utilities will face tremendous uncertainty preventing them from making long term choices.

Has EPA left a window open for environmental groups who may not like the Transport Rule to successfully challenge the rule?  In essence, EPA is penalizing companies who caused the state to exceed its budget (which represents it significant contribution to downwind states). 

Will the courts deem this adequate to meeting the Clean Air Act obligation to eliminate actual significant contribution?  Or will the courts still maintain the view that the utilities will be able to meet their obligations through purchasing allowances and not by actual reductions?  In other words, what is the assurance each state's significant contribution will be actually eliminated?

EPA Releases "No Trade" CAIR Replacement Rule

U.S. EPA released is long awaited replacement rule for the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) which was the controversial cap and trade program for coal-fired utilities.  In December of 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled CAIR exceeded EPA's regulatory authority and ordered the Agency to develop an new proposal.

Originally, the Court planned on throwing out the CAIR rule entirely.  However, it was embedded in so many other State air pollution control plans, the Court allowed CAIR to remain in place temporarily while EPA worked to finalize the replacement rule proposed today.

EPA is calling its new proposal the “Transport Rule."   It represents a significant revision from CAIR for a number of reasons including:

  • Steeper reductions of NOx and SO2 than proposed under CAIR
  • Virtual elimination of the cap and trade mechanism, by assigning each State a firm emission budget which it may not exceed
  • Accelerating the time frame for reductions to coincide with the attainment deadlines faced by the States

The Transport Rule proposes a hard 2014 deadline for meeting reduction requirements- it appears the ability to bank allowances ("pollution permits") will no longer be permitted.  Overall, the rule would reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 71 percent over 2005 levels and nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 52 percent.  SO2 and NOx react in the atmosphere to form fine particle pollution and ground-level ozone (smog).

The agency puts the expected annual cost of compliance to power plant operators at $2.8 billion in 2014.   However, elimination of original cap & trade program set forth in CAIR can only mean significantly increased compliance costs.  The real benefit of cap & trade is to utilized market mechanisms to achieve more cost effective emission reductions.

State Budgets Based On "Contribution" to Downwind Air Quality Problems

The Court's big issue with CAIR, was EPA inability to ensure that the rule would eliminate each State's contribution to downwind air quality issues.  The Court pointed out that all the utilities in any given State, could in theory, meet their compliance obligations by buying allowances and electing not to install pollution controls.

While this is in theory true, that is the point of a cap & trade program designed to utilize cost effective reductions.  The power plants that can reduce pollution in the most cost effective manner will aggressively reduce emissions and sell excess reductions to those plants facing higher compliance costs.

A quick skim of the 1,300 page rule suggests the absence of a real market mechanism to achieve reductions.  Sure EPA says interstate and intrastate trading can remain under its preferred option.  However, States now have imposed hard emission budgets. 

Perhaps this will mean limited intrastate trading, but far less interstate trading.  With a smaller market to trade allowances, EPA makes it more difficult to leverage cost effective reductions. 

Of course, EPA had to address the legal flaws identified by the Court.  The real solution was to get better authority from Congress.  Otherwise, we are left with a shell of a cap & trade program resulting in higher utility compliance costs (aka as higher utility bills).

EPA will take public comment on the proposal for 60 days after the rule is published in the Federal Register. The agency also will hold public hearings. Dates and locations for the hearings will be announced shortly.
 

Cleaning Up Midwest Fine Particulate Pollution- Reliance on CAIR Misplaced

A new report regarding fine particulate pollution in the Midwest shows that achieving compliance with federal air quality standards is linked to U.S. EPA's fix for the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR).  The Lake Michigan Air Director's Consortium (LADCO) released its white paper discussing recommendation on addressing fine particulate (p.m. 2.5) pollution in the Midwest.  The white paper includes these major findings:

The air quality studies demonstrated that high daily PM2.5 concentrations occur year-round, but are more likely in the winter and summer months, and are associated with elevated concentrations of particulate sulfate (especially in the summer), particulate nitrate (in the winter), and organic carbon (OC). Effective control programs for these PM species include:

  • Regional reductions in sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from EGUs and large non-EGUs
  • Reductions in ammonia (NH3) emissions from agricultural operations, especially in winter
  • Regional reductions in oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emission reductions
  • Urban-scale reductions in OC primary emissions from residential wood combustion and mobile sources, and VOC emissions from anthropogenic sources

The report notes that, beside power plant sulfate emissions, PM levels are attributable to agricultural emissions, smoking cars and outdoor wood fireplaces.  However, these types of sources are much more difficult to control. 

In contrast there has been a long track record for regulating power plant emissions.  Starting with the acid rain program, then the NOx SIP call and finally CAIR- there have been three different cap and trade programs set up for reducing emissions.  CAIR is critical because power plants are the largest source of SO2 emissions. (See post, CAIR Impact on Air Quality)  The table below was taken from the report (EGU = Electric Generating Units). 

 

Table 1. Annual SO2 Emissions in LADCO Region (1000 TPY)

   

2005

2012

2018

Point-EGU

 

2,826 (83%)

1,665 (77%)

1,468 (76%)

Point-NonEGU

470 (14%)

423 (20%)

393 (20%)

Area

 

47 (1%)

44 (2%)

42 (2%)

Nonroad

 

61 (2%)

16 (1%)

11 (1%)

On-road

 

20 (1%)

5 (--)

4 (--)

   

3,425

2,155

1,919

CAIR, under a cap and trade program, would dramatically reduce SO2 power plant emission in two phases- 2010 requires 50% reduction and 2015 requires 65% reduction.  States are counting on the continued existence of CAIR to meet PM air quality standards.  However, the D.C. Circuit Court tossed out CAIR as "fatally flawed."  U.S. EPA is currently working on a "CAIR fix" to address the issues raised in the Court's decision. 

LADCO's white paper makes it clear little thought is being given to what will happen if CAIR cannot be fixed.  A review of the legal issues with CAIR shows the State's better start considering that possibility.

The fact State's have incorporated CAIR into the air quality planning is the main reason the Court allowed CAIR to remain while U.S. EPA worked on its CAIR fix.  But there is no guarantee U.S. EPA is going to find a legally valid way to preserve CAIR.  The Court found many "fatal flaws" but two of those flaws go to the heart of the cap and trade program:

  • One of the central problems the Court noted with CAIR was its method for reducing the cap on SO2 emissions.  The Clean Air Act establishes a value for acid rain allowances- one allowance is the right to emit one ton of SO2.  CAIR attempted to reduce the cap by cutting the value of an acid rain allowance in half in 2010. The Court found this to be problematic because the value of acid rain allowances is set forth the Clean Air Act.  The Court said:

Lest EPA forget, it is “a creature of statute,”
and has “only those authorities conferred upon it by Congress”;
“if there is no statute conferring authority, a federal agency has
none.”

CAIR, as program created by rule, cannot trump a statute.  How U.S. EPA can possibly get around the Clean Air Act establishment of acid rain allowance to preserve CAIR reductions is perplexing.

  • The Court also questioned the fundamental basis of EPA's cap and trade program that it was not required to eliminate one state's contribution to another state's non-attainment problem.  The Court said:

"Theoretically, sources in Alabama could purchase enough NOx and SO2 allowances to cover all their current emissions, resulting in no change in Alabama's contribution to Davidson County, North Carolina's non-attainment." 

How U.S. EPA can legally show CAIR will address contribution from one state to another while at the same time preserving the cap and trade concept is also perplexing.

While States are counting on preservation of CAIR reductions to meet air quality standards, their faith in U.S. EPA to develop a legally defensible CAIR fix may be misplaced.  Senator Carper has pushed hard to incorporate a new, stronger CAIR-like program in the Senate climate change legislation.  However, this move has not been all that popular as it is seen to slow down progress on climate change.

What will be left if CAIR cannot be repaired is a mess in terms of air quality planning.  It will also make the mountain that much higher to climb for areas recently designated nonattainment by U.S. EPA.

 

Court Rejects EPA's Fine Particle Standard

In National Farm Bureau Federation v. EPA, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has granted environmental group petition for review of the NAAQS for fine particle pollution known as PM 2.5.  Environmental groups and industry groups both challenged portions of EPA's standard.  The EPA had decided to maintain the annual standard at 15 μg/m3.  The Court concluded the EPA lacked a valid scientific basis to support their decision:

We conclude the EPA failed adequately to explain why, in
view of the risks posed by short-term exposures and the
evidence of morbidity resulting from long-term exposures, its
annual standard is sufficient “to protect the public health [with]
an adequate margin of safety,”

We conclude the EPA has failed reasonably to explain why
it believes its daily standard will “provide an appropriate degree
of protection from health effects associated with short-term
exposures to PM2.5.” Id. at 61,174/3. We therefore remand the
annual standard to the EPA for further consideration of whether
it is set at a level requisite to protect the public health while
providing an adequate margin of safety from the risk of shortterm
exposure to PM2.5

The Court also granted the petition for review of the secondary NAAQS for the fine PM brought by the environmental groups.  The Court said EPA unreasonably concluded that the NAAQS are adequate to protect the public welfare from adverse effects on visibility. 

The Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC),along with medical and public health groups who submitted comments, challenged the EPA’s proposal to retain the existing level of the primary annual fine PM standard at 15 μg/m3 . They urged the EPA to lower the level to somewhere between 12 and 14 μg/m3. The CASAC and several public commenters also objected to setting the secondary standards for fine PM at the same level and averaging time as the primary standards, arguing that they were insufficient to protect against adverse visibility effects.

The Court decided not to vacate the annual standard, but only remand it for Agency review.  The Court left open the possibility EPA could provide a better explanation for maintaining the standard at 15 μg/m3.  However, based on the strong opposition to the standard and CASAC's recommendation to lower the standard, EPA will most certainly oblige.

So what is the potential impact of a lower PM 2.5 standard? The yellow and orange dots are areas that have readings below the 15 μg/m3 but within the CASAC recommendations.  Of course its not just more potential non-attainment areas, it is also the red dots finding it much hard to reach attainment. 

States will need to be aggressively looking at diesel reductions as well as a stronger CAIR program to reach the standards.

 

 

 

 

 

Between the Lines of the EPA Administrator Memo

Today, EPA Administrator-designate Lisa P. Jackson distributed a memo to all employees of EPA.  The memo outlines her and President Obama's philosophy of environmental protection.  The memo is an interesting demarcation of the major changes that are coming in the realm of environmental protection. 

Some priorities Ms. Jackson is very upfront about, such as addressing Climate Change (which notably was identified as the number 1 priority in her memo).  Other policy perspectives are a little less straightforward, but inferences can be made.  Here are my take aways from the memo.

  1. Climate Change is a major priority-  The President made reference to it in his inaugural speech.  It is no mistake that its the first bullet on EPA-designate Jackson's list of priorities.  Notably, she includes the following statement:  "As Congress does its work, we will move ahead to comply with the Supreme Court's decision recognizing Pea's obligation to address climate change under the Clean Air Act"  STAY TUNED ON THIS ONE>>>
  2. Science will be at the forefront-  Many environmental groups felt that the Bush Administration put science secondary to their end regulatory goals.  The memo is a clear statement that this will change.  What could be the impact?  For one, look for even stronger federal air quality standards (NAAQS) for ozone and fine particles. 
  3. Resurgence in Environmental Justice- A very thorny issue and one difficult to address through regulation.  However, the memo mentions making  "people disproportionately impacted by pollution" a priority.  Perhaps they will try to tackle this more aggressively.
  4. CAIR-  I may be out on a limb on this one.  In the "improving air quality" priority, Jackson states "we will plug the gaps in our regulatory system as science and the law demand."  I think this is a vague reference to a much stronger CAIR program.
  5. Brownfield Redevelopment-  U.S. EPA may put even more emphasis on brownfield programs as a means to accelerate clean up of contaminated sites.  Jackson was criticized in New Jersey for the slow clean ups.  I think the statement -"turning these blighted properties into productive parcels and reducing threats to human health and the environment means jobs and investment in our land" -can't be anything other than a reference to a strong brownfield program.
  6. Money for the Great Lakes?-  In the memo, Jackson says the "Agency will make robust use of our authority to restore threatened treasures such as the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay."  I am intrigued at the term "robust use of our authority" in connection with the Great Lakes.  Is this a reference to enforcement rather than the Great Lakes Restoration Plan?
  7. Don't underestimate the amount of change coming-  President Obama's buzz word was change.  I don't think there is any area that is about to see more change than environmental regulation in the next four years.  Fasten your seat belts...

 

Nuisance Finding Gives Downwind States New Ammo in the Long Cross-Border Pollution War

On January 13, 2009, Judge Lacy Thornburg of the District Court for the Western District of North Carolina issued a major decision in case of North Carolina v. TVA.  When filed, this case was seen as another chapter in the on-going battle between downwind and upwind states over cross-border pollution. 

However, the decision and implications are somewhat surprising.  The Court declared that emissions from four of eleven TVA power plants in upwind states created a public nuisance in the State of North Carolina.  Even though these sources apparently comply with environmental permits and regulations, the Court ordered hundreds of millions of dollars in new pollution control equipment on those plants.

Downwind states suing upwind states over coal power plant pollution is nothing new.  The Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic States have sued Midwestern and Southern States over pollution under a number of theories. 

  • They successfully participated in New Source Review enforcement cases with U.S. EPA. 
  • They filed Section 126 petitions under the Clean Air Act. Those petitions were later resolved by U.S. EPA by creating the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR)- a cap and trade pollution control program. 
  • They have sought new federal legislation tightening emission standards on coal-fired power plants

What makes this suit so different is that the State of North Carolina went outside the typical Clean Air Act tool box in asserting its claims.  Instead the State relied upon common law theories.  The decision will certainly bring a waive of new rounds of litigation.  Especially with the remand of CAIR after the successful challenge by North Carolina. 

Here are some of the significant implications of this decision. 

1. The Court found that significant health effects occur as a result of exposure to pollution at levels even below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM 2.5 and Ozone. The Courts said:


"After reviewing the totality of evidence, the Court is convinced that exposure to PM 2.5-even at or below the NAAQS of 15 ug/m3- results in adverse cardiopulmonary effects, including increased or exacerbated asthma and chronic bronchitis...these negative but non-fatal health effects result in numerous social and economic harms to North Carolinians, including lost school and work days..."


2. The Court found that sources in upwind states can still have significant impacts on a downwind state’s air quality. However, in this case, the Court drew the line at distance of 100 miles. TVA plants within 100 miles (4 plants) were deemed a nuisance and plants outside 100 miles (7 plants) were not.

3. The Court created a new definition of “significant contribution.” TVA plants that were contributing 3% of the emission responsible for PM 2.5 pollution in North Carolina and roughly 5% of the ozone problem were deemed to significantly contributing. On that basis, these plants (ones roughly within 100 miles) were deemed a nuisance.  Sources that contributed less than 1% were deemed not a nuisance. 

4. The Court required installation of SCRs and scrubbers on a number of units because those units were contributing to the nuisance.

5.  Even though these plants were apparently in compliance with all federal and state environmental permits and regulations, they will be putting on additional controls.

6. The Court included emission rates for each plant in a spreadsheet in the opinion. However, the decision is somewhat vague as to whether these are simply expected emissions post controls or in fact legally enforceable limits.

7. From a legal perspective, I found it interesting that a federal judge in North Carolina found sources in other states to be causing a nuisance by applying the State nuisance law from Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee where the sources are located.

 

Court Saves CAIR, Remands to EPA

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued its much anticipated decision in response to U.S. EPA's request for reconsideration of the decision vacating the CAIR program.  The decision marks an important victory for U.S. EPA, the State and provides some level of certainty for utilities.

The Court decided to remand the rule to U.S. EPA so it can fix the rules "fatal flaws" identified in its earlier decision.  This decision has the effect of preserving the CAIR rule in the interim while EPA overhauls the rule.  The Court also rejected the request by some to establish a firm deadline by which EPA must re-issue the rule. 

Here is how the Court explained the rationale for its decision:

Here, we are convinced that, notwithstanding the relative
flaws of CAIR, allowing CAIR to remain in effect until it is
replaced by a rule consistent with our opinion would at least
temporarily preserve the environmental values covered by
CAIR. Accordingly, a remand without vacatur is appropriate in
this case...

We explained that vacatur was appropriate
because of the depth of CAIR’s flaws, the integral nature of the
rule, and because other statutory and regulatory measures would
mitigate the disruption caused by vacating the rule. Id.
However, on rehearing, EPA, petitioners, and amici states point
to serious implications that our previous remedy analysis,
including our consideration of mitigation measures, did not
adequately take into account. The parties’ persuasive
demonstration, extending beyond short-term health benefits to
impacts on planning by states and industry with respect to
interference with the states’ ability to meet deadlines for
attaining national ambient air quality standards for PM2.5 and
8-hour ozone, shows that the rule has become so intertwined
with the regulatory scheme that its vacatur would sacrifice clear
benefits to public health and the environment
while EPA fixes
the rule.

While not addressing the issue, the Court rejected its request for reconsideration of what EPA identified as key issues.  One such issue was whether EPA has the authority to adjust the value of Acid Rain allowances under CAIR. 

While this decision is very good news for EPA and the States who are trying to plan for meeting air quality standards, it still leave a tremendous amount of uncertainty.  The Court is not reconsidering any of the "fatal flaws" it identified with CAIR, which were numerous.  The rule that will emerge after being fixed by EPA will look vastly different than before.

Now utilities will be left with making key decisions about the use of allowances and construction of new controls without the benefit of knowing what the new CAIR rule will look like.  While the picture got a little clearer today, there is still a whole bunch of uncertainty.

 

CAIR Update- Court Considers a Stay Allowing EPA to Fix the Cap and Trade Program

Is the Court showing signs that it may have gone too far is throwing out CAIR?  After EPA filed a request for rehearing, a hopeful sign emerged last month when the Court asked the parties challenging CAIR to respond to two questions:

  1. Does any party really want the entire rule thrown out (vacatur)?
  2. Should the Court stay the effectiveness of its decision to throw out the rule until EPA fixes and re-issues a new rule addressing the Court's issues?

In response, twenty-two (22) states, including North Carolina, told the Court they don't want the rule thrown out.  The States requested the Court to stay the effectiveness of its decision to allow EPA to fix the rule.  However, North Carolina was concerned with how much time EPA would have to fix the rule-it opposed an indefinite stay.  Rather, N.C. proposed a deadline of July 2009 after which the stay would end. 

The Utilities were split on the issue.  Some asked for the rule to be thrown out, while others preferred remand.  The argument in support of throwing out CAIR can be summed up by this quote from the brief filed by the Florida Association of Electric Utilities:

Regulatory certainty is critically important, and granting rehearing or staying the mandate would require CAIR states to immediately implement, and affected sources to immediately comply with a rule the Court has declared contains "more than several fatal flaws."

The Utilities opposing remand or a stay ask a valid question- What portion of a "fundamentally flawed" program are going to remain after EPA fixes the rule.  EPA has said it will take 2-3 years to fix CAIR.  The Utilities argue why should they be forced to comply with provisions of the rule that Court has said are fundamentally flawed for the next several years.

U.S. EPA also filed a brief in response to the two questions posed by the Court.  EPA says it prefers a stay of effectiveness of the vacatur decision while it fixes the program.  However, it also says it must have rehearing on certain critical issues or CAIR will be ineffectual at reducing pollution even if the Court grants a stay.

Principally, U.S. EPA wants rehearing on the Court's decision that EPA does not have the authority to adjust Title IV (acid rain) allowance under the CAIR program.  Without the authority, EPA argues it cannot create a program that will impose greater reductions of SO2 emissions. This would mean the less stringent caps under the old Acid Rain Program will remain.

EPA says this will also impact the emission reductions achieved during a potential stay.  Without clear authority to adjust Acid Rain caps and allowances, Utilities will have no incentive to hold banked allowances for future compliance.  This is because Utilities will not anticipate a stronger program will emerge after EPA fixes the rule.  Rather, Utilities will simply use up the allowances during the stay and emission reductions will not occur.

EPA raises an interesting issue-  Even if a stay is granted there will be tremendous uncertainty as to what the Utilities will do with allowances during the stay.  While EPA makes a valid point, they may have ended the possibility of a stay if the Court is unwilling to reconsider its position that the rule is fundamentally flawed. 

Given all the posturing by the Parties, it will be interesting to see what course of action the Court takes in response.

There appears to be growing awareness that the CAIR decision has major implications beyond just the Utilities. For instance, what about upcoming deadlines for attaining federal air quality standards (NAAQS)?  Without the CAIR SO2 reductions States will likely not be able to comply in time.  Should the State's be punished for EPA's failure to develop a legally enforceable program?

In yesterday's U.S. News and World Report  there was an article covering the uncertainty that swirls around the future of clean air post CAIR.  

Five months after a federal court struck down the Bush administration's top program aimed at curbing air pollution, the fate of air quality regulation—and, therefore, air quality—in much of the country is increasingly uncertain, if not imperiled.

I was interviewed for the story and was able to point out that the States can't fix air quality issues on their own.  Federal help through programs like CAIR is needed to address what is a regional issue, not a local issue.

"In the case of fine-particulate pollution, there is a huge regional soup of it," says Joseph Koncelik, an Ohio-based environmental lawyer and the former Ohio EPA director. "So, it's somewhat ineffective if states are working on their own, just trying to control a few factories in their jurisdiction."

If the Court doesn't grant the stay and issues its mandate effectively throwing out CAIR, will EPA  still hold the States accountable for the 2010 deadline to meet the fine particle standard (PM 2.5)?

CAIR Update: Court Asks Utilities Whether To Throw Out the Program

As reported by Platts, on October 21st the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals asked whether the parties involved in the lawsuits that led to vacatur of the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) want the entire rule to be thrown out or to be kept in place until U.S. EPA revises the rule. 

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday
ordered petitioners -- which include utilities Duke Energy and Entergy -- to
respond within 15 days to its inquiry.

It is a move CAIR supporters see as a hopeful sign.

"We see it as a sign that [the court is] working through the reasoning of
our position and, hopefully, will make the right decision" and keep CAIR in
place, said EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar.

Asking the petitioners whether they want the entire rule thrown out or a
stay of the court mandate indicates the DC Circuit is "taking our petition
seriously," he added.

If the DC Circuit stays its mandate, CAIR could stay in place until EPA
puts in place a revised rule.

This puts the Utilities in an interesting position.  EPA has indicated that CAIR would need a significant rewrite which would include weakening protections that were provided to the Utilities under the original rule.  The weakening would likely include removal of the shield that EPA constructed that protected the Utilities from claims that interstate transport of pollution was not adequately addressed by CAIR.

Given the 15 day deadline, the briefs should have been filed.  It will be very interesting to how the Utilities like to gamble.  Would they prefer the rule to be thrown out and take their chances a new program is developed that is stronger?  Would the prefer maintaining at least the first phase of CAIR to give them some certainty in the allowance markets and be able to plan for new pollution controls?

 

Impact on Air Quality Without CAIR

I mentioned in my post discussing LADCO air quality meeting that I would put up the most relevant slides or graphics from all the presentation over the two days in Chicago.  I think I can pretty much boil it down to two slides.

This slide was put together by U.S. EPA when meeting to discuss their support of a Legislative fix to reinstate CAIR.  As discussed, no legislative fix appears possible at least in the short run. 

The bar chart shows the reductions of existing SO2 emissions based up various legislative fixes. The bar to the far left is emissions in 2005.  The short series of bars represents full reinstatement of Phase I (2009) and Phase II (2015) of CAIR.  Then we go through no fix, 2 year temporary  fix, 4 year temporary fix, and permanent reinstatement of only Phase I. 

Okay, so this is a great visual for the massive reductions in SO2 expected as a result of CAIR.  With no legislative fix and successful appeal of the Court's decision vacating CAIR unlikely, looks like we are at the "no fix" point on the graph. 

But what does this mean to air quality?  While the presentations from the States all indicate attainment of the 1997 ozone standard (.85 ppm) appears likely, its a much different story for P.M. 2.5 (fine particles).

This is the latest modeling of air quality in the Midwest without CAIR.  The map on the right shows no CAIR. The map on the left with CAIR.  The more color dots the more area not meeting U.S. EPA's PM 2.5 standard.

The chart below provides the overall scorecard.  We go from only 3 areas in the Midwest not meeting the standards, to a total of 20 area. 

Furthermore, all of the presentations discussed that PM 2.5 (fine particle) pollution is regional in nature.  Which means the states will find it probably impossible to attain the standard without regional reductions similar to CAIR's reductions from power plants. 

With more areas not attaining, more states will be forced to consider much costly controls on existing businesses.  In addition, areas that don't meet U.S. EPA's air quality standard find it more difficult to attract new business or plant expansions in their areas.  Not good news for the Midwest during these tough economic times. 

CAIR: EPA's Path Forward Slow and Unclear

I participated today in a Midwest Air Quality Workshop in Chicago. At the workshop, Bill Harnett from U.S. EPA's Office of Air Quality Planning and Strategy (OAQPS) gave an interesting presentation regarding U.S. EPA's reaction to the vacatur of CAIR by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Here are a couple of the key issues discussed or observations made:

Chances of Rehearing Appear Slim- U.S. EPA is not very optimistic about their chances to get rehearing from the D.C. Circuit. Apparently only 5 of the 10 justices who sit on the Court do not recuse themselves from U.S. EPA's cases involving the utilities. This means that instead of a full panel of justices, U.S. EPA is requesting reconsideration to only five justices, three of which decided to vacate CAIR already. This means U.S. EPA will have to get one of the Justices to change their previous opinion just to get rehearing...an outcome that does not appear likely.

Even if Rehearing is Granted the Best Hope is Restoring Only a Portion of CAIR- As discussed in my prior post on the brief U.S. EPA filed for rehearing, U.S. EPA seems to have thrown in the towel already on getting all of CAIR restored- meaning the second phase of reductions in 2015 are out of the picture. Even if U.S. EPA gets a rehearing it is already saying the best possible outcome will be to restore the first phase (2009) of CAIR reductions.

No Short Term Legislative Fix- This was apparent with Congress going into recess for the elections. Time simply ran out on a quick fix that could have restored the first phase of the CAIR reductions in 2009. The ramifications are significant because, as discussed below, any path forward will involve at least a two or three year process.

A Fix is at least 2-3 Years Away- While U.S. EPA is already evaluating options for a new federal rule and also hoping for legislation, either approach will be lengthy. U.S. EPA is going to have to wait until a new administration comes into office. Appointments won't happen until at least the Spring. This means a new rule proposal or even rules following legislation won't happen until the summer of 2009 at the earliest. However, even after the rule is proposed this just starts the long rulemaking process. Therefore, U.S. EPA is saying a final rule is 2-3 years away and reductions may be 4-5 years away.

U.S. EPA Wants to Develop a "Safe" or "Bullet Proof" Rule- It is clear U.S. EPA does not want to risk losing the entire CAIR program a second time. To try an ensure that won't happen, U.S. EPA says they will push for a rule that addresses the issues raised by the Court. What this means exactly is unclear, but I doubt the utilities will be happy with the outcome. One option discussed was to craft a federal rule that does not "address" interstate transport, but only "reduces" transport. Under CAIR, U.S. EPA said the states didn't have to do anything more to "address" transport because CAIR solved interstate transport issues. In a new rule, U.S. EPA says they won't go that far leaving additional reductions to solve interstate transport up to the States.

How? U.S. EPA would leave it up to the states to certify in the State Implementation Plans (SIPs) that they have reduced emissions from sources in the State to such a degree they addressed all transport issues. This helps U.S. EPA because if one State's finding that they addressed interstate transport is overturned by the Courts the whole federal rule does not crumble.

For Trading to Survive U.S. EPA Can't Solve Transport, Some Reductions Will Come From the States- This builds upon the notion U.S. EPA will only strive to "reduce" transport and not "address" it . A federal rule that solves interstate transport could not include a cap and trade component. A principle reason the Court vacated CAIR was because with a cap and trade program there were no assurance reductions would occur in any given state. All the sources in a state could satisfy their obligations by purchasing allowances and avoiding controls. As a result, the Court said U.S. EPA illegally concluded in the CAIR rulemaking that it solved interstate transport of emissions from power plants.

Without CAIR State's will attain Ozone but not PM 2.5 - Each of the five LADCO States (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan) gave presentations on their air quality plans. All of the State's a planning to restore the NOx SIP Call in response to the CAIR decision. From the reductions under the NOx SIP Call all the states said they can attain the 1997 ozone standard.

However, without CAIR, attaining the fine particulate (PM 2.5) standard is nearly impossible. CAIR brought huge reductions in SO2 that will be lost without CAIR. LADCO modeling shows we go from 3 to 20 monitors in the Midwest reading nonattainment with the P.M. 2.5 standard without CAIR by 2009. Unless the States get very aggressive and proceed with old command and control enforcement/permitting against these sources it appears unlikely they can get enough reductions to attain the P.M 2.5 standard by their 2010 deadline.

(Note: Once the visuals from the various presentations are available next week I will post the best illustrations of the issues I have discussed above)

 

CAIR: EPA's Petition for Rehearing Concedes "Major Flaws"

On September 24, 2008 U.S EPA filed its petition to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for rehearing En Banc on the vacatur of the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR).  While focus may be on EPA's request for rehearing, a significant concession was made in EPA's brief that has major implications regardless of whether rehearing is granted. 

EPA Concedes CAIR Phase Two Reductions Are Not Aggressive Enough

EPA elected to not seek review of the Court's holding that the 2015 deadline for Phase II reductions is unlawful because it is inconsistent with the shorter compliance deadlines for ozone and p.m. 2.5 contained in the Clean Air Act.  The Court held EPA must require reductions as "expeditiously as practical" but no later than the deadlines established in the Clean Air Act (typically 2010).  In the Court's words:

EPA did not make any effort to harmonize CAIR's Phase Two deadline for upwind contributors to eliminate their significant contribution with the attainment deadlines for downwind areas North Carolina v. EPA slip op. at 25

EPA's concession on the Phase Two deadline runs counter to the Bush Administration's position that a legislative fix of CAIR must preserve the entire program.  To the extent EPA's concedes this point in its rehearing is somewhat puzzling as it was unnecessary at this stage of legal maneuvering.  Perhaps this concession paves the way for a Congressional compromise over a short term legislative fix that preserves Phase I of the program.   Certainly this concession means a rewrite of CAIR that includes more aggressive reductions seems inevitable.

EPA's Arguments in Support of Rehearing

EPA's brief appears to try and lay a guilt trip on the Court as its justification for a rehearing.  EPA rightfully points out the major benefits of CAIR that will be lost if at least Phase I of the program is not preserved:

Most significantly, vacatur will jeopardize massive emission reductions...and accompanying improvements in public health.  EPA estimated that CAIR would prevent 13,000 deaths annually by 2010 and 17,000 premature deaths annually by 2015.

Vacatur will also destroy or reduce the value of banked allowances that companies generated through early emission reductions...6.9 million tons of banked Title IV allowances have lost over three billion dollars in value [since the Court's decision]

There is no doubt the courts decision to throw out the CAIR program has resulted in chaos both in the trading markets and with State's struggling to reach attainment with federal air quality standards.  We will see if the Court agrees that these dire consequences satisfy the standard for review that the matter involve a question of "exceptional importance." 

As a second basis justifying review of the decision, EPA argues that the Court has been inconsistent in its review of the NOx SIP Call and CAIR.  The EPA argues the Court previously upheld the NOx SIP Call in Michigan v. EPA and CAIR uses the "same fundamental approach approved in Michigan."  Both air pollution control programs use economic factors to determine the amount of contribution to downwind state nonattainment upwind states must eliminate.  The economic factor being "highly cost effective controls."

This is the crux of the legal issue and has significant implications for the design of any cap and trade program to control air pollution.  Does the Clean Air Act call for elimination of contribution to downwind air quality issues based upon cost of controls or does it require reductions based upon a State's actual contribution to downwind nonattainment?  If it is ultimately decided that actual contribution must be eliminated, it may prove very difficult to craft a valid cap and trade program without new legislative authority.

EPA's strategy to argue inconsistency appears pretty risky given the fact the Court raises questions regarding legality of the NOx SIP Call.  Specifically, the Court states:  "In Michigan we never passed on the lawfulness of the NOx SIP Call's trading program."  The Court's decision appears to suggest it would have thrown out the NOx SIP Call as well if proper challenges had been made.  

The EPA appears to face a steep climb to ultimately win its appeal.   The Court was unanimous in its finding that basing required reductions on cost effective controls does not comply with the Clean Air Act.

What's Next For CAIR?

Through legal maneuvering, U.S. EPA can effectively delay the effectiveness of the Court's decision to vacate CAIR.  The rehearing petition will likely delay it for a couple months while the Court considers the petition including allowing comment by other parties.  Even if the rehearing is denied, which appears likely given the original decision was unanimous, U.S. EPA can file a motion to stay the effectiveness of the decision while it seeks appeal to the Supreme Court.  By Court rules a stay, if granted or not challenged by the other parties, is good for 90 days.

While EPA delays the effect of the Court's vacatur of the program, efforts will focus on a legislative fix that can preserve at least the immediate future of the program.  However, time is running out on this "quick fix" option as Congress adjourns for the election.

 

CAIR: A Game of Chicken Over a Quick Fix

As reported on CNN, the Senate is debating how or whether to legislatively restore the CAIR program that was struck down in Court.  EPA still has a week or so to decide whether to appeal, but all bets are that Congress needs to act in order to save the program.

The game of chicken centers around whether the entire program should be restored, meaning reductions in Phase I set to take effect in 2009/2010 and Phase II which is to take effect 2015.  The White House insists on both Phase I and Phase II.  (proposed CAIR legislation) Senate Democrats, who have long been unhappy with the strength of the CAIR program are talking like they are only willing to put in place Phase I and then work on long term legislation for a stronger program.

President George W. Bush is "pushing for a full codification of CAIR," Carper told reporters. "That just ain't gonna happen. I think they may not be able to get what they want, but they can get what we all need."

But the White House has allies in the U.S. Senate. In a sign of the ongoing standoff, Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., introduced a bill Thursday that would restore the full program instead of just the first phase.

"Options to quickly reinstate Phase I CAIR followed by tighter legislation do not save as many lives as the full CAIR fix until eight to 20 years from now; that means 6,500 to 41,000 more lives will be lost mostly in the next three to six years," according to a statement released by the lawmakers.

With only a few week before Congress is set to adjourn, there does not appear to be much time to resolve the drama.  With so much at stake and the chaos that will ensue if no type of fix is adopted, its hard to believe no action will be taken.  But as long as the White House insists on reinstatement of the whole program it appears likely there will be no resolution.  The Eastern State, Democrats, Environmental Groups and even some of the Utilities believe too strongly CAIR is a weak program.  If this was not the case, Congress would have passed Clear Skies-the legislative precursor to CAIR. 

CAIR UPDATE: U.S. EPA granted more time to seek rehearing

As reported in Platts, the Court of Appeals has granted US EPA until September 24th to determine whether to pursue rehearing of the ruling that struck down the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR).

The US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia announced
....it was giving EPA more time to file any petition for a rehearing,
which it can seek either before the same three judges or before the full
six-judge court.

Any such petition would originally have been due August 24.

The extra time would likely delay implementation of the court's ruling
for at least another two to three months until the court decides whether it
will approve or deny any EPA petition, according to John Walke, clean air
director for the Natural Resources Defense Council
.

The court would seek comments from other parties on any government
petition, giving them up to 30 days, before making a decision, Walke added.

The full effect of the Court's decision takes place on issuance of its "mandate" which effectively throws out the program. The Court of Appeals typically issues its mandate 7 days after the time period for appeal expires. So earliest the full decision would likely take effect is October 1st.

EPA could file a motion to stay the effectiveness of the mandate while it seeks appeal. If no one opposes the motion the stay is effective for 90 days. If the motion to stay is granted, then it will continue while EPA seeks review in front of the Supreme Court.  So, EPA through legal maneuvering can try and delay the inevitable.

Rehearing still appears unlikely as does any Congressional action to provide legal support for CAIR.  Also, the decision to seek more time will keep EPA silent on many aspects how it proposes to deal with CAIR decision.  EPA traditionally provide great deference to the Court while determining whether to seek an appeal.  An information vacuum is not the best thing right now for those struggling to understand how to effectively address the many ramifications of the Court's decision.

U.S. EPA's Fine Particle Designations Impact County Economic Development Efforts

 Yesterday, U.S. EPA announced its proposed non-attainment designations for counties not meeting the new P.M. 2.5 (fine particle) pollution standardOhio was second only to California in total counties designated non-attainment with 28 total counties

A county's designation as non-attainment makes economic development efforts more difficult and increases competitive pressure on existing businesses.  The designations mean regulatory restrictions on economic growth and increased pollution control compliance costs for existing businesses. 

How is economic growth impacted?  Before a company can build a new factory or expand, if that factory will result in a moderate pollution increase of fine particles it must offset that emission increase.  An offset is achieved through pollution reductions from existing businesses already located in that county.  The offset requirement, as part of U.S. EPA's New Source Review Program, acts as a strong disincentive to locate in non-attainment counties.  The offset requirement only goes away if the county is redesignated attainment.

How does County get out of its non-attainment designation?  Through reductions in fine particle pollution to levels that comply with the federal standards. Reductions are achieved through a combination of federal and state pollution programs.  The State must develop a pollution control plan (SIP) that shows its strategy for achieving the federal air quality standard by the applicable deadline (2012).

What are the largest sources contributing to fine particle pollution?  Transportation, in particular diesel engines and coal-fired power plants.  While, fine particle pollution is more localized than ozone, it still has a regional component.  Therefore, counties must see state and regional reductions in order to achieve the standard. (Note: the recent letter from State EPA heads to U.S. EPA)

How can Ohio and other states effectively achieve reductions from these sources?  While U.S. EPA has adopted tougher standards for diesel engines, the reductions won't come until there is turnover in the fleet.  Therefore, the full benefits may not be seen for 25 years.  That is why programs like DERG that accelerate diesel reductions are so important. (see yesterday's post on Ohio's diesel grant program). 

Furthermore, Ohio and the other state's efforts to meet the fine particle standard are further complicated by the court decision throwing out U.S. EPA's CAIR program.  CAIR, as described by U.S. EPA, was the "linchpin" program designed to help states achieve attainment with ozone and fine particle standards. (see post "CAIR Decision Will Have Many Aftershocks")

Implementation of the new standard: Below is U.S. EPA's implementation schedule for both the old (65 ug/m3)  and new (35 ug/m3) 24-hour fine particle standards.  While Ohio submitted its SIP in July for the old standard it relied heavily upon CAIR.  So, even for the old program Ohio's SIP will need significant revisions.  It is yet to be seen how states can achieve either standard without regional reductions from coal-fired power plants.  Unfortunately, it doesn't appear Congress is going to act quickly to provide relief to the States.

Milestone

1997 PM2.5 Primary NAAQS

2006 PM2.5 Primary NAAQS

Promulgation of Standard

July 1997

Sep. 2006

Effective Date of Standard

Sep. 1997

Dec. 18, 2006

State Recommendations to EPA

Feb. 2004
(based on 2001-2003 monitoring data)

Dec. 18, 2007
(based on 2004-2006 monitoring data)

Final Designations Signature

Dec. 2004

No later than Dec. 18, 2008*

Effective Date of Designations

April 2005

Typically no later than 90 days after publication in the Federal Register

SIPs Due

April 2008

3 years after effective date of designations

Attainment Date

April 2010
(based on 2007-2009 monitoring data)

No later than 5 years after effective date of designations

Attainment Date with Extension

Up to April 2015

No later than 10 years from effective date of designations

 

 


 

CAIR: Summary of Senate Committee Hearing

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a timely hearing on the effect of the Court of Appeals decision vacating CAIR.  There was testimony from US EPA, State, Utilities and one Environmental Group. 

The Senators and all who testified agreed on certain items:

  • Substantial health benefits will be lost without action to replace CAIR (17,000 fewer premature deaths avoided each year)
  • Tremendous uncertainty exists- the market for trading allowances collapsed following the decision (NOx trading stopped, SO2 allowance prices lost 70% of their value in a day)
  • States air quality compliance is in disarray- All who relied on CAIR must redo their clean air plans (SIPs) and will find it extremely difficult to make up the reductions attributable to CAIR
  • Utilities risk losing billions in investments in new pollution controls and purchases of allowances (one utility declared a $100 million dollar loss due to collapse of the allowance market)

With so much agreement, one would assume that quick legislative action is likely to address the problem.  Not so fast- Don't forget that the CAIR rule came into existence because Congress could not agree on Clear Skies (a cap and trade legislative proposal).  Those same rifts emerged during the Senate hearing.

  • How many P's? (which pollutants should a program cover- NOx, SO2, CO2 or Mercury)
  • How many States should be in? (28 versus a national program)
  • How steep and fast should reductions be? (there is disagreement even for the two pollutants everyone agrees should be covered- NOx and SO2)

This really is going to boil down to a game of chicken.  On the one side (Democrats, downwind-Eastern states and environmental groups) on the other (Republicans, upwind-Midwest states and the utilities). 

Do those advocating for an aggressive four pollutant bill really want to risk achieving no short term benefits in hopes of more aggressive legislation in the future?   Are they willing to withstand the mess that will ensue in their States without at least a stop gap measure?  Is this really the vehicle to adopt climate change legislation?

On the other side....do Utilities want to face this much uncertainty, especially heading into an election cycle?  Are the Midwest states comfortable that CAIR reductions will be sufficient to meet tougher federal air quality standards?  Are they willing to impose even more costly controls on businesses within their State if cap and trade is taken off the table?

It appears this may be the perfect storm that may actually result in something getting done.  Lets hope so.

CAIR III: Creating Key Legal Precedent on Cap and Trade

In my prior posts on CAIR, I analyzed the real world impacts of the Court's decision to vacate the program.  In my final post on CAIR, I highlight some of the legal implications from the Court's decision on business and policy makers.  This is not meant to be a legal brief for lawyers, but rather a quick summary of what matters most from the CAIR decision.

 

 

 

  • Deadlines and Dates-  I had the pleasure of testifying in the U.S. Senate on the issue of ozone/soot deadlines and implementation of federal control programs.  The Court made an astute conclusion in finding that U.S. EPA should have coordinated attainment deadlines for ozone and soot that are applicable to the States with the reductions required under the CAIR program.  The Court held "EPA ignored its statutory mandate to promulgate CAIR consistent with provisions in Title I (of the Clean Air Act) mandating compliance deadlines in downwind state's."  (page 25) 

 

  • Coordination with State Pollution Control Plans- It is illogical to create federal air pollution reduction programs for power plants and vehicles that take 10-25 years to fully implement while requiring States meet federal air quality standards in 3-5 years. Depending on the State, power plants and vehicles make up roughly 30-50% of the ozone problem.  You are handcuffing the State's by designing federal programs that won't assist their efforts to meet federal air quality standards until after applicable deadlines have past.  Especially when much of the ozone and soot problem is regional in nature, not local. (see CAIR II:  Short Term/Long Term Implications)

 

  • Cap and Trade "on the ropes"-  For pollutants with both regional and local consequences it may be enormously challenging to create a valid trading program using the current authority in the Clean Air Act. Both CAIR and CAMR have been vacated by the Courts.  Both represent the newest  cap and trade pollution trading programs developed by U.S. EPA.  Is this the end of cap and trade?    Examine the following quotes from the Court's decision attacking the very foundations of a regional cap and trade program:
    • "Theoretically, sources in Alabama could purchase enough NOx and SO2 allowances to cover all their current emissions, resulting in no change in Alabama's contribution to Davidson County, North Carolina's non-attainment." (page 16)
    • "In Michigan we never passed on the lawfulness of the NOx SIP Call's trading program."  (page 17)  Seems like a less then subtle suggestion the Court may have thrown out the NOx SIP Call if similar challenges were made.
    • "EPA's approach-regionwide caps with no state-specific quantitative contribution determinations or emissions requirements-is fundamentally flawed." (page 59)

 

  • Economics of Compliance, Costs Cannot be the Driver-The Courts have rebuked EPA efforts to increase the relevance of the economic cost of pollution controls.  The CAIR decision once again declares costs secondary to environmental consequence. 
    • "EPA can't just pick a cost for a Region, and deem significant any emissions that sources can eliminate more cheaply." (pg. 37)
    • "EPA's interpretation cannot extend so far as to make one State's significant contribution depend on another state's cost of eliminating emissions." (page 39)
    • The Court strongly criticized EPA's fuel adjustment method of granting more allowances to states with coal burning power plants versus gas or oil.  "The net result will be that states with mainly oil- and gas-fired EGUs (electric generating units) will subsidize reductions in states with mainly coal-fired EGUs...EPA's appraoch contravenes [the Clean Air Act]." (page 41)

 

CAIR Part II: Update on Short Term/Long Term Impacts

In my previous post on the CAIR decision, I discussed the environmental and practical ramifications of the Court's decision vacating the program.  While speaking at a large permitting seminar for manufacturer's, I had a chance to discuss the conclusions of my prior post with some State officials.  While I was correct that the CAIR decision complicates the State pollution control plans for ozone and soot, the environmental consequences discussed in my prior post need to be adjusted to account for additional factors. 

It is unclear how U.S. EPA will treat State air pollution control plans (SIPs) that rely on CAIR.  However, in the short term, not all the CAIR controls will be scuttled or switched off.  AEP and First Energy have entered into major settlements with U.S. EPA stemming from New Source Review (NSR) violations. 

These settlements require installation and operation of billions of dollars in new air pollution controls on power plants in Ohio.  The consent orders will act as a backstop now that CAIR is gone.  Perhaps some additional state actions will be needed to put additional backstops in place where no federal decree covers the plant.  In summary, it appears the Ohio may have the tools to deal with the short term issues presented by the absence of CAIR for sources within the State. 

The longer term consequences still remain and by 2015 will be felt if Congress does not act by replacing CAIR quickly.  CAIR was designed to drive a second wave of major reductions that will be very difficult to replace without some new federal program.  This second wave of reductions are essential for state's trying to meet the tougher ozone standard (.075 ppm) and soot standard (fine particle- pm 2.5).  If State's fail to meet either the ozone or soot standards, then existing businesses will likely be squeezed for additional air pollution reductions.  Also, economic development is more difficult in areas not attaining federal air quality standards.

Another consequence of the absence of a CAIR like program will be a lot more litigation between the states. It won't just be North Carolina or the East Coast suing upwind sources.  Even Ohio may be suing its neighbors like Indiana to try and force additional reductions.  

Why?  Ozone is truly a regional issue.  Even City's that some may think have no one to blame for their air pollution, such as Cleveland, in fact receive a substantial contribution from upwind sources. Take a look at the figures to the left.  They demonstrate how both ozone and P.M 2.5 are regional issues.  The majority of pollution in these major cities is from regional not local sources.

All this points to the need for Congressional action to replace CAIR to avoid a serious and costly problem for the State's and businesses.  Unfortunately, any action is very unlikely until we have a new President.

CAIR Decision Will Have Many Aftershocks

The recent decision issued by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal vacating the CAIR rule  has far reaching implications.  It probably justifies at least one more post.  Understandably, reaction has been related to the fact that this major clean air initiative was dismantled with a stroke of a pen.  A fact highlighted by EPA's announcement in 2005 when the CAIR rule was implemented.

“CAIR will result in the largest pollution reductions and health benefits of any air rule in more than a decade. The action we are taking will require all 28 states to be good neighbors, helping states downwind by controlling airborne emissions at their source.”

--Steve Johnson, Acting EPA Adminstrator
3/10/2005

The Court included editorial comments trying to suggest the impact would be minimal.  For instance, the Court points to two power plant pollution control programs (the NOx SIP call and Acid Rain Program) that will still be effective in reducing emissions even after CAIR is gone. The Court also suggests that State's could simply sue one another if more reductions are needed (using its Clean Air Act Section 126 authority).  Litigation is hardly an effective pollution control strategy.

Bottom line, there is simply no way to minimize the impact of its decision or the ramifications for States and US EPA.

 

The map to the left is a good representation of the breadth of the CAIR program.  Each dot represents advanced pollution controls on a power plant. (Click on the map to enlarge the view)  This map shows US EPA's projections as to controls on power plants by 2010 after CAIR and CAMR (power plant mercury control program), both of which have been vacated by the Court.  While some of the dots may remain due to the NOx SIP Call and Acid Rain Program, many will disappear or be on hold. 

How many dots disappear?  US EPA projected that CAIR would result in 116 more units having advanced air pollution controls in 2010.  By 2020, the number was 287 more units. 

While the decision certainly impacts efforts at cleaner air, it also makes a mess of state air pollution control plans (called State Implementation Plans- SIPs) that have been submitted for approval by US EPA.  Most of the SIPs submitted rely on CAIR as a primary control method to achieve federal air quality standards for ozone and soot.  The ruling brings tremendous uncertainty as to how these state plans will be reviewed.

To support CAIR, US EPA provided modeling to show air quality improvement that would result from reductions brought about by the program.  State's relied upon this modeling as part of their air pollution control plans to achieve federal air quality standards.

 

What was the magnitude of air quality improvement that US EPA projected? The Agency showed that in 2005, 104 areas didn't meet ozone standards and 43 areas didn't meet pm 2.5 (soot) standards.  By 2010, EPA projected the number of areas not meeting ozone and soot standards would be reduced to 14 and 20 respectively due in part to CAIR.

 

Now that the State's cannot rely on CAIR as a cornerstone of their air pollution control strategies, those reduction must come from somewhere.  Without these massive reductions State's face missing deadlines to meet federal air quality standards.  Missing the federal deadline can bring sanctions and more rigorous air pollution control requirements on businesses within the state. 

 US EPA has even adopted a tougher ozone standard which is currently being implemented.  The State's face enormous challenges in meeting this new standard if there is no federal air pollution control program applicable to power plants.  From reading the decision, it may be very difficult to craft a legal program using administrative authority.  Congress may have to amend the Clean Air Act to give US EPA the authority, but since 1990 Congress has shown its reluctance to re-open the Clean Air Act.   

 

 

U.S. EPA Requests Ohio Provide Support for Air Reforms

Ohio EPA recently received a letter from U.S. EPA's Region V requesting justification for changes made to the State's air pollution control plan.  The changes to the State plan came about as a result of reform legislation passed by the Ohio Legislature in 2006.  Much has recently been made about the letter sent by U.S. EPA.  There has been two articles (article 1 and article 2) by Spencer Hunt in the Columbus Dispatch discussing the letter.  Also, there was recently an Editorial in the Toledo Blade chastising the Agency for being easy on "polluters" and for failing to timely submit the required information to U.S. EPA. 

Environmental groups have strongly criticized the portion of the legislation that allows smaller facilities (less than 10 tons per year) to avoid installing best available technology (BAT) and install reasonably available control technology (RACT) in its place.  This change has been described as weakening the protection of Ohio's environment.  In reality, it at worst will men minimal increases of pollution from these small sources.  As discussed below, increases that are more than offset by other programs.

I am familiar with these arguments having been at the center of the storm during the legislative debates over S.B. 265.  The editorial and comments strongly criticizing these changes seem to ignore some fundamental facts about Ohio's regulation of air pollution. 

The criticism ignores the fact that federal air quality standards are getting more stringent, not weakening.  Most notably, U.S. EPA recently strengthened the ozone standard.  Ohio still must meet the federal air quality standards.  The state legislation (S.B. 265) provided more flexibility in choosing how to comply.  Bottom line, Ohio's air quality has improved and will continue to improve.

So what was the purpose of the legislation?  Did you know Ohio regulates over 70,000 air sources while its neighbor, Michigan, only regulates 7,000?  This is not because we have so many more sources in Ohio, its because we decided long ago to regulate much smaller sources of air pollution in the state. With Ohio's struggling economy, it makes sense to be more efficient and effective in how Ohio met federal air quality standards.

Maybe this puts the 10 tpy threshold in perspective-the brand new permit for the AMP Ohio Coal fired power plant allows it to emit 3,194 tpy of NOx and 6,820 tons of SO2.  That is one source.  The equivalent of at least 300 or 600 smaller sources taking advantage of the 10 tpy exemption.  (Remember sources less than 10 tpy still must have controls, they just don't have to install more costly controls).

Even when the AMP Ohio facility comes on line, total emissions from Ohio's power plants will be drastically reduced. The total emission budget for Ohio power plants under the federal CAIR program in Ohio is 180,677 tpy of NOx which will be reduced to 95,556 tpy of NOx in 2015.  The reduction of some 85,000 tons of NOx will more than offset any insignificant increase attributable to small sources installing less costly controls.  And that is just one major reduction on-the-books, more reductions will also be forthcoming.