logo: Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy

YCELP News Feed

Section Image

On the Environment
Environmental Law & Governance

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
| Share

American Electric Power v. Connecticut

By Guest Author, Yaron Schwartz, Research Assistant, Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy

In a creative effort to curb carbon emissions, six states, along with New York City and several land trusts, decided to pursue a different policy tactic than previous environmental campaigns. Rather than lobbying for Congressional legislation, this coalition sued five major electric utilities and the Tennessee Valley Authority in 2004, claiming that their emissions constituted a public nuisance and, therefore, should be regulated by the courts under federal common law. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, bringing national attention to this environmental campaign and issue.

This week, however, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the defendants in American Electric Power v. Connecticut. The Court stated that it was the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as charged under the Clean Air Act to regulate US carbon emissions, not that of the courts. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued, "Congress set up the EPA to promulgate standards for emissions, and the relief you're seeking seems to me to set up a district judge, who does not have the resources, the expertise, as a kind of super EPA."

While undoubtedly a setback for those who desire real reductions in U.S. carbon emissions, this case may still have a silver lining. By highlighting the responsibility of the EPA to set standards for carbon emissions, the Court has placed renewed pressure on the EPA to take meaningful action on climate change. The Court’s decision has also clarified the stakes for all concerned. As long as Congress refuses to address climate change through new legislative solutions, the EPA will remain the only national policymaking body in the United States with the ability to tackle the problem.  Efforts to impede or constrain EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act now seem doubly dangerous.

Read the Court’s official decision in American Electric Power v. Connecticut.

Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Tuesday, April 05, 2011
| Share

Climate Change Triage: The Northeast and Sea Level Rise

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director

Sobering look at sea level rise in the Northeast and the hard choices it puts before us.  Do taxpayers pay to defend coastline with expensive sea walls in what looks to be a losing battle?  Do emotionally-invested homeowners on the coast retreat now while their property may be at its optimal value?  What can we save from the sea's rise, if anything?  How will we as a society triage the many victims of this climate change harm?      

I detect no real sense that policy makers have a good handle on how to resolve, or even approach, these kinds of terrible choices.  Unfortunately, going forward blindly is also a choice, and one that usually doesn't end too well.

Posted in: Environmental Attitudes & BehaviorEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Friday, April 01, 2011
| Share

The RGGI Emissions Cap:  Is It Too Forgiving?

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director

There are many valuable lessons to be drawn from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the nation's only operational, and mandatory, cap-and-trade program.  One worth dwelling on is the effectiveness of RGGI's CO2 emissions cap.  Recent analysis suggests this cap is much too forgiving -- not just now, but, more importantly, also over the next two decades.

The whole point of the RGGI emissions cap is to create a market for CO2 emissions from power plants that will ultimately drive down those emissions over time in the most economically efficient way possible.  A relatively harder cap - one set below actual CO2 emissions, for example - should make RGGI's tradeable CO2 pollution allowances more scarce and thus more valuable to polluters, resulting in higher prices per allowance than a cap set above actual emissions would.  The key idea here is that RGGI's cap on CO2 emissions from its regulated entities - electric utilities basically - creates a new market that has the potential to push those utilities towards low- or no-carbon generation.  Where policy makers set the cap can therefore matter a great deal; a relatively tough one pushes harder than a relatively lenient one.  This chart, produced on behalf of RGGI, strongly suggests the RGGI cap is not hard enough now, nor will it be hard enough in the future:

The important lines to look at for our purposes are the dashed one - that's the RGGI cap as set by agreement of the RGGI members - and the solid black line - that's both historical and projected total CO2 emissions from RGGI's regulated entities.  You can see that presently, the cap is simply way too high (and to be fair, some of that is on purpose).  The factors behind the recent massive drop in actual CO2 emissions are several (more on that later).  The recession undoubtedly plays a huge part.  Nevertheless, the cap just does not appear to be exerting real pressure on utilities right now.  Maybe that's not a problem.  There's an argument that a soft cap is just fine early on, as we refine and tweak RGGI.  That argument might be even stronger in the current economic climate.  No need to clamp down on utilities in the midst of the recession.

So perhaps the short-term performance issues of the cap are okay to put aside for the moment.  That's not at all true for the long-term performance issues.  Here's the major problem, and one policy makers should make an urgent focus of their thinking:  According to these projections, the cap doesn't appear to really bite until maybe 2030 or later, and that's just too late in the scheme of things.  Climate science tells us we need meaningful CO2 reductions much much sooner than that to avoid catastrophic harms.  So what's the point of an emissions cap if it doesn't drive change when we need it?  It's time to give serious thought to how best to tighten the RGGI cap to make it better correspond with the scientific reality we find ourselves in.    

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
| Share

EPA Revisits Hydraulic Fracturing and Drinking Water

By testpersona

As oil prices increase and energy security becomes a concern in the US, more is being done to explore cleaner burning fuels such as natural gas. Natural gas has seen big increases in the number of wells and total production as shale gas extraction, in particular, intensifies. The EPA projects that 20% of US gas supply will come from shale gas by 2020.

An EPA report in 2004 found that "there was little to no risk of fracturing fluid contaminating underground sources of drinking water during hydraulic fracturing of coalbed methane production wells." But public concern over the process by which shale gas is extracted  known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has escalated with the growing number of wells.  Each well requires the pumping of tremendous amounts of fracking fluid into the earth and, according to the EPA's 2004 report, "[t]here is very little documented research on the environmental impacts that result from the injection and migration of these fluids into subsurface formations, soils, and USDWs."  Until last year (when the EPA called for the voluntary reporting of chemicals used in fracking fluids), many of the chemicals used in fracking were unknown.  Chemicals now known to sometimes be involved in the process include: diesel fuel (which contains benzene and other toxic chemicals), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, methanol, formaldehyde, ethylene glycol, hydrochloric acid, and sodium hydroxide. Given this situation, the EPA has announced another study to examine the effects of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water and groundwater.  The EPA aims to issue preliminary findings in 2012 and a full report in 2014.  The draft study plan is available at here.

Posted in: Environmental Performance MeasurementEnvironmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, November 30, 2009
| Share

Good Copenhagen Backgrounder

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
Excellent piece on how the Copenhagen climate conference can lay the foundation for final agreement on a binding international climate treaty in 2010.
Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Monday, November 23, 2009
| Share

Obama Decision on Copenhagen Soon

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
The latest: a decision "in the coming days."  The guess here is that he attends.
Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate

Page 6 of 6 pages « First  <  4 5 6

Blog Home



2007-2010 Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy | Contact Us | Website by Asirastudio LLC