A Busy Week in Washington for Climate Change

This was a very busy week in Washington for climate change.  Senators Boxer and Kerry introduced their comprehensive climate change bill, and the EPA issued its rule proposing to regulate only large stationary sources for greenhouse gases.

On the legislative front, the proposal was basically as expected.  It tracks a lot of the language of the ACES passed in the House this summer, with a few significant differences.  It has more lenient language on pre-empting states, and it also reinstates a higher reduction target for 2020.  Interestingly, this target may not be any harder to reach because of the slowing of greenhouse gas emissions due to the economic downturn.  THe reference year of 2005 was a particularly high year, meaning there is more room for reductions.  The bill also pays more attention to environmental and social impacts of offsets, and takes an ambiguous approach to which agency should govern.  For more analysis of that, please go to my blog on the Center for Progressive Reform website.  (www.progressivereform.org).

One behind the scenes question on the legislation is how it is being managed by the Senate staffers.  I have heard complaints from several Senate folks that they don’t like the way negotiations have occurred.  Whether these internicene politics will derail the bill is a really important question.

The EPA’s action was expected but seems to be moving at a quicker pace than I anticipated.  The question on this one is the order in which the EPA will issue its regulations.  It is clear that they can easily make the GHG endangerment finding, and it is also clear that once GHGs are criteria pollutants, they can promulgate performance standards.  What is less apparent is how they can set a “safe” level, and whether they can really exempt smaller sources.  This measn that they could set up a trading system that would be legal before they have to get into setting a NAAQS.  THis should keep up the pressure for more legislation.

They still will have a hard time legally restricting regulation to only large sourecs as it runs afoul of the statutory requirements of the Clean Air Act.  One possibility would be to let smaller sources come under a “general” permit, but the EPA is anxious to avoid the appearance that there is any regulation of “cows and other small sources.”