Why the Next President Should Use the Clean Air Act to Administer a National Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program

EPA headquarters photo

EPA headquarters in Washington DC, photo: Dave Myers

Though the United States has (at best) sat on its hands and (at worst) actively hindered constructive action to combat climate change for the past eight years, with the changing of the guard coming (not soon enough), the next president can jump start action on climate change by employing the well established Clean Air Act to unify state carbon projects and administer a national cap-and-trade program. That's the argument being put forth in a new piece in Yale Environment 360 by authors Michael Northrop and David Sassoon.

This is why and how such an approach could work:Supreme Court Decision Sets Legal Precedent
Since the 2007 ruling by the Supreme Court that carbon dioxide emissions are a pollutant subject to regulation by the EPA under the Clean Air Act, a legal precedent exists,

"EPA has the authority to regulate sources of pollution directly and could set emissions standards for new stationary sources of pollution — such as coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, and steel and concrete plants — in relatively short order," said Lisa Heinzerling, professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, who wrote the petitioners' brief in Massachusetts v. EPA.

She and many other legal experts believe that under the Clean Air Act, the EPA can also administer a national cap-and-trade program by writing federal rules to unify independent regional carbon markets. Already, 23 states and four Canadian provinces are forming such markets, with 10 additional states being brought into the process as observers.

Unify Established Regional, State Programs
Unifying and expanding existing state programs would be less expensive and quicker to implement than writing national legislation; existing programs give such an effort a "head start":
Three regional programs are already in development — the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast, the Western Climate Initiative, and the Midwest Governors Greenhouse Gas Accord. The first already has held its first carbon credit auctions and will begin regulating power plant emissions in January. Taken together, these initiatives to combat global warming now cover areas that include half the U.S. population, and state governments are already considering how to harmonize regional trading systems with each other, as well as with the European Union's emissions-trading scheme. In addition, 39 states — and most Canadian provinces and Mexican states — established a climate registry to measure emissions, a cornerstone of an eventual national U.S. market.

US Climate Change Re-engagement in First 100 Days
In prescribing what the next president should do, the article authors assert,
By applying the Clean Air Act, the next president can stand on the shoulders of legal and regulatory precedent. He can adopt an executive-branch strategy to complement the next round of legislative efforts. He can lead climate policy development by using existing authority and can ensure that the U.S. has a strong position going into the next round of international climate negotiations. And action in the first 100 days can set the stage for genuine U.S. re-engagement in international climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009.

As Northrop and Sassoon say, 'there is no time to waste' when it comes to taking strong action on climate change. I really have a hard time getting my head around inaction by any nation on this issue. When the costs of doing nothing are so potentially gigantic for future generations (our children facing the brunt of the changes), short-sighted selfish thinking simply has no place. It is simple cowardice, a lack of willpower, not to act.

Read the whole original article at: Yale Environment 360.

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