In the United States, the legal and policy response to global warming has always lagged far behind the urgency of the problem as articulated by scientists and borne out in the real world. In the past five years, this mismatch has reached frightening proportions, with Arctic sea ice and glaciers rapidly retreating, rising and acidifying seas, stronger storms, more frequent and intense droughts and heat waves, looming species extinction and the climate related-deaths of 300,000 people each year. Leading scientists warn that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have likely already exceeded safe levels and must therefore be reduced in the next few decades to no more than 350 parts per million from today’s 385 parts per million to avoid triggering catastrophic, and irreversible, changes to the planet. Instead, emissions continue to grow and the world is on a pace to exceed even the worst-case scenarios modeled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The need for action could not be more urgent. Nevertheless, the federal government has still yet to finalize, much less implement, any meaningful domestic greenhouse gas reduction plan.
The great irony of U.S. inaction is that we have the strongest and most successful domestic environmental laws in the world, and no modification of these laws is necessary to use them to address greenhouse gas emissions. Foremost among these laws is the Clean Air Act, which has a proven track record of effectively and efficiently reducing air pollution. The Clean Air Act works. For four decades, this seminal law has protected the air we breathe, saved thousands of lives each year and otherwise improved public health. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own data, the economic benefits of Clean Air Act regulation have exceeded the costs by at least 42 times. While written decades ago, the framework of the Clean Air Act can be deployed without changes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other forms of greenhouse pollution. As the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA demonstrated, there is simply no valid legal reason for the EPA to delay implementing greenhouse pollution reductions pursuant to Clean Air Act authorities.
This paper sets forth a blueprint for achieving greenhouse gas emission reductions under the Clean Air Act. The author hopes this paper will help spur both faster action by the administration under current law, and support for removing the existing Clean Air Act exemptions from ACESA. The Clean Air act provides the successful foundation for the transition to a clean energy future. Any new climate bill must incorporate and build upon this foundation, rather than discarding it in favor of an entirely new, untested system, placing all our eggs in one precarious basket.
Snape, William, Kassie Siegel, and Matt Vespa. “No Reason to Wait: Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions through the Clean Air Act.” Working Paper. San Francisco, CA: Center for Biological Diversity Climate Law Institute, 2009.