April 3, 2017 by Victor Flatt

News and Observer Op-ed: Trump Can Order, but Federal Judges Will Decide on Climate Rules

This op-ed originally ran in the Raleigh News & Observer.

President Trump's new "energy" executive order is an attempt to roll back Obama regulations on climate change, and even make considerations of climate change disappear from much of the policymaking process altogether.

That's quite a lot to accomplish by executive order, and despite all the media attention he got for it, the president is eventually going to discover that he can't eradicate climate realities from federal consideration with the stroke of a pen.

Among other things, Trump's order directs the EPA to take steps to get rid of the Clean Power Plan as currently constituted and begin rolling back an Obama era rule restricting methane emissions. These rules went through a full and complete rulemaking process; in order to undo them, the administration will have to undertake its own rulemaking.

That will take time – years. And along the way, it won't be sufficient for the president to simply order up a different rule that ignores statutory requirements related to climate change. All actions by federal agencies, including rulemakings, must be made on the basis of evidence, and may not be arbitrary and capricious or an …

Nov. 7, 2016 by Victor Flatt

During the U.S. presidential race, much ink has been spilled on how important the election is. But one of the most important issues of all – climate change – has made little appearance in the election discourse, even though it is one of many issues on which the candidates have sharp divisions.

But those divisions are not just important at the federal level. Climate change and environmental risk have also been politically divisive at the state level. Many state governments have made decisions about easing, ignoring, or repealing environmental and climate laws, and these decisions could literally be killing people.

We are all familiar with the Flint drinking water crisis of the last year, where many people, including vulnerable children, have been harmed by lead exposure brought about by budget decisions about the water supply, which failed to account for potential environmental impacts. Other states, including Texas, have …

Feb. 10, 2016 by Victor Flatt

In a surprising moves to legal experts, the Supreme Court yesterday in a 5-4 ruling stayed the implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) supporting greenhouse gas reductions at fossil fuel fired power plants.  The move was surprising because the Supreme Court rarely involves itself in the determinations of whether or not a temporary stay of legal implications is warranted, largely leaving that to lower courts.  The D.C. Circuit, two weeks ago, refused to grant a stay, meaning that the balance of harms against the likelihood of prevailing in the case did not weigh in favor of stopping the implementation of the rule.

What does all of this mean?  Well, one could explain this very unusual action by the fact that the Clean Power Plan is itself very unusual.  No case before, including litigation over the Affordable Care Act, has had so many state …

Feb. 23, 2015 by Victor Flatt

Today I joined a group more than 40 environmental law professors and clinicians from institutions around the nation in a joint letter to the University of North Carolina System Board of Governors urging that they reject a recommendation to shutter the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, housed at the University of North Carolina Law School. That unfortunate recommendation arose from a special committee created by the board at the direction of the legislature to review all 237 of the state university system’s centers, in the wake of criticism of state anti-poverty efforts by the Center’s director, Professor Gene Nichol.

To be clear, the Center takes no money from the state, and hasn’t since 2009. It’s funded by private contributions. It’s being targeted not to save money, but because some in the legislature would rather not have to be reminded of poverty …

May 28, 2014 by Victor Flatt

On May 14, 2014, the EPA proposed new rules to control “residual risk” from hazardous air emissions (such as from benzene) at the nation’s petroleum refineries.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to calculate whether or not residual risk to human health exists after the agency has put Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) in place to control hazardous air emissions.  Studies have long shown residual risk to the public after MACT was put in place at refineries, and this finding forms the legal basis for this rule.  In particular, the EPA proposes addressing more fugitive emissions, addressing emissions controlled during changes in facility operation, and putting new requirements on storage vessels.

The last EPA rulemaking on residual risk from refineries occurred during the George W. Bush administration (initiated in 2002), and that proposal was controversial in at least three respects.  First, it wasn’t clear …

Dec. 12, 2013 by Victor Flatt

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in EME Homer City Generation v. EPA.  At issue in the case was the ability of EPA to regulate cross-state pollution, or pollution generated in some states that is carried over to others downwind. Eight “downwind” states, primarily in the Northeast, filed a brief in support of the Court’s review of a previous decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down the rule EPA implemented to regulate cross-state pollution.

The rule stems from the “Good Neighbor” provisions of the Clean Air Act, which calls on EPA’s good judgment to address the issue of one state unfairly polluting another. More than 90% of ozone levels in Connecticut stem from out of state pollution sources, contributing to the soaring levels of asthma and respiratory illness in the area. In order to mitigate this kind …

July 22, 2013 by Victor Flatt

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari, or review of  EME Homer City Generation v. EPA, 696 F.3d 7 (D.C. Cir. 2012), reh’g en banc denied, 2013 WL 656247 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 24, 2013). This is a welcome development, as the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals got many things wrong in its tossing out of the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSPAR), the follow-up to the previously invalidated Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) which regulated potential cross-state air pollution. For example, although an oil refinery one state may meet its own air quality, but not in state nearby where it might be polluting neighboring cities. CSPAR would hold states accountable for their pollution of their neighbors, which the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out last year.

This case was brought to the D.C. Circuit on consolidated challenges …

Sept. 2, 2011 by Victor Flatt

Today’s decision of the Obama administration to withdraw new ozone rules is not only bad policy, it is also illegal. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to revisit its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) every five years to ensure that they are adequate to protect the public health and safety. In 2006, the Bush Administration revisited the rules as required, but proposed a new standard of .75 P.P.M., which was far above the unanimous recommendations of the scientists who said somewhere between .60 and .70 P.P.M. was necessary to protect the public health. A lawsuit followed, and in response the Obama administration re-opened the rulemaking. This delayed a legal decision which most assuredly would have over-turned the 2008 final rules.

The Obama EPA proposed the more rigorous standards that could be supported by the science of 2006. In truth, new …

Jan. 6, 2011 by Victor Flatt

On Dec. 30, the EPA announced that it was partially disapproving the Texas State Implementation Plan (SIP) that would not allow it to issue PSD permits for greenhouse gases that were now “subject to regulation.” Continuing its resistance to all things EPA, Texas filed a request for an emergency stay of the disapproval in the DC Circuit. This follows Texas’s request for an emergency stay on the rulemaking which declared GHGs subject to regulation under PSD in the DC Circuit, and later in the Fifth Circuit, both of which were denied.

This time, however, perhaps because it was a holiday, the DC Circuit (without ruling on the merits) entered a temporary stay until the issue could be considered more fully today, January 6. Texas and its supporters are arguing that the EPA should get reversed on this one because it might have violated procedural notice and …

Nov. 17, 2010 by Victor Flatt

Last week the EPA released its “PSD and Title V Permitting Guidance For Greenhouse Gases.” This Guidance was designed to give the states direction in how to implement permitting requirements for new sources for other criteria pollutants that also produce greenhouse gases on January 2, 2011, and new sources of greenhouse gases following in May, 2011, under the Clean Air Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration Program.

The Guidance does an excellent job of summarizing and explaining how the EPA’s current PSD permitting program works (it is the best succinct and correct explanation I have seen), and explains how the procedure applies with the addition of greenhouse gases to the list. Importantly, it reaffirms the current five-step standard for determining what is “Best Available Control Technology” under the PSD program. The Guidance first advises permitting authorities in making an applicability determination based on whether there is …

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