An EPA Cap and Trade Program Without Legislation?

For those of you who aren’t convinced that Senator Specter’s defection to the Democrats will be the savior of cap and trade legislation, and who are concerned by Senator Durbin’s recent pronouncement that, at this point, there are not 60 votes in the Senate, the question as to how EPA might regulate greenhouse gases under existing authority has taken on greater importance.

The traditional assumption, and the basis for the doom and gloom scenarios projected by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been that EPA would regulate greenhouse gases under the NSR program. While there have been arguments concerning whether EPA has sufficient regulatory flexibility to avoid regulating de minimis sources of greenhouse gases, a new study from NYU proposes an end-run around this question.

The study, entitled “The Road Ahead: EPA’s Options and Obligations For Regulating Greenhouse Gases,” suggests that EPA has authority to establish a cap and trade program under the Clean Air Act without any new statutory authority.  Several of their conclusions are open to question. To name just one, the D.C. Circuit decision striking down the CAIR rule seems to pose a real obstacle to a cap and trade program without specific new statutory authority.

In fairness to the authors, however, the study acknowledges the various difficulties.  The study also does an excellent job identifying the problems inherent in attempting to regulate greenhouse gases through command and control regulation, such as the NSR program, rather than a cap and trade program.  For anyone thinking about EPA’s options at this point, it’s a must read.

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