An Update On EPA GHG Regulation Under Existing Authority

The uncertainty surrounding EPA regulation of GHG emissions under existing Clean Air Act authority was driven home for me last week when the same conference resulted in two diametrically opposed headlines in the trade press. Regarding a forum held by the International Emissions Trading Association, the Daily Environmental Reporter headline was “Existing Law Too Inflexible to Accommodate Market-Based Emissions Cuts, Executives Say.” Over at ClimateWire, the headline wasSome Companies Want EPA to Establish a CO2 Cap-and-trade System.”

Of course, in fairness to the two publications, both headlines are true – and that’s the problem with the current EPA efforts. Notwithstanding current efforts in Congress to preclude EPA regulations, the endangerment finding seems almost certain to withstand legal challenge. Thus, GHGs will be regulated. Almost everyone wants that regulation to be in the form of a cap-and-trade program, but the last time EPA tried that without explicit Congressional authority, it was shot down in the courts. This may be why the Daily Environment Report story indicated that Vickie Patton of EDF had “pleaded” with executives to support cap-and-trade legislation.

At this point, the most likely near-term outcome appears to be no federal cap-and-trade legislation, and a stripped-down EPA regulatory program that would only apply to really large emitters, so that the inefficiencies inherent in the facility-specific BACT approach won’t appear too unreasonable, because the only people complaining about it will be some very unpopular polluters and all of my economist friends.

Or, as the Stones might have said in their more cynical moments:  Not only can’t you get what you want, but you can’t even get what you need.

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