Report of the Climate Change & Emissions Committee

Energy Law Journal, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview
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Report of the Climate Change & Emissions Committee

This report summarizes key developments in environmental policy, regulation, caselaw, and legislation relating to climate change and emissions. The time frame covered by this report includes activities from June 2009 to August 2010.*


A. Developments at the Environmental Protection Agency

1. Endangerment Finding & Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Light-Duty and Heavy-Duty Trucks

On December 15, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a final rule entitled "Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases Under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act" (the Endangerment Finding).1 The final rule was based on the proposed rule issued on April 17, 2009,2 in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA. That decision mandated the EPA to consider whether greenhouse gases emitted by new motor vehicles endangered the public health or welfare.3

The final rule is comprised of two distinct determinations. The first is that a mix of six long-lived greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) may be reasonably anticipated to endanger the public health and welfare.4 In arriving at this determination, the EPA Administrator identifies a variety of areas in which human-induced climate change poses a threat to public welfare, including increases in extreme weather events, changes in ambient ozone concentrations, increases in airborne and waterborne pathogens, sea level rise, and increased strain on water resources.5 The Administrator places particular emphasis on the risks associated with water resources and stronger storm surges occurring in coastal areas.6 Although the scope of the Endangerment Finding is limited to adverse effects occurring within the U.S., the Administrator also acknowledges that the international effects of global warming may have indirect impacts on the welfare of the U.S. population, and gives some consideration to these effects as well.7

The second determination presented by the final rule is the causal connection between certain motor vehicles8 and the dangers of climate change. Finding that emissions of the six long-lived gases from motor vehicles constitute 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and 23% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the Administrator concludes that emissions from these sources contribute to global warming, and thus present a threat to public health and welfare.9

The EPA has acted on the Endangerment Finding by promulgating a suite of new greenhouse gas regulations for motor vehicles in conjunction with the Department of Transportation (DOT). The first component of this new regulatory regime was issued as a final rule on May 7, 2010,10 and applies to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles built in model years 2012-2016. It combines regulation of greenhouse gas emissions per mile by the EPA with the implementation of new fuel economy standards by the DOT.11 Taken together, these new regulations will result in average emissions of 250 grams/mile and an average fuel economy of 34.1 mpg by 2016,12 representing an estimated reduction of 960 million metric tons of greenhouse gases and 1.8 billion barrels of oil.13 In addition to reductions arising from improvements in fuel economy, the EPA greenhouse gas reduction targets may also be met by reducing emissions of hydrofluorocarbons and carbon dioxide through improvement to air conditioning systems.14 The joint program represents an important step towards the development of a uniform national emissions policy for automobile manufacturers, as it is harmonized among the EPA, the DOT, and the State of California, which has agreed to accept compliance with the new program in satisfaction of its own greenhouse gas standards.15

Building on the framework established by the May 7, 2010, final rule, the EPA and the DOT are also developing rules that would apply to passenger vehicles from model years 2017 and beyond, as well as new rules for heavy-duty trucks.

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