Friday, November 14, 2008

Coal power plants must address CO2 emissions

In a rather remarkable move, the Environmental Appeals Board of the Environmental Protection Agency remanded a permit to build a coal power plant in Utah because it did not adequately address carbon dioxide controls. The permit does not technically ban all coal-fired power plant construction, but delays their approval until they deal with CO2.

Of course, this should not be a problem for the coal industry, right? I mean, they've been touting how clean they are with expensive "clean coal" ad campaigns. So this is really all water under the bridge for them, is it not?

The ruling by the EAB refers to the landmark Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the court concluded that the EPA had the authority to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act, and the duty to do so as long as it concluded that CO2 emissions are harmful to the public welfare.

Industry groups have claimed that the CAA is not the appropriate legal tool to regulate CO2 emissions.
The American Petroleum Institute filed a brief opposing the Sierra Club, arguing that the Clean Air Act, a version of which first passed in 1963 long before climate change became an environmental issue, is the wrong vehicle for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
There is merit to the argument that the Clean Air Act wasn't intended to regulate CO2, which is a different kind of pollutant than, for example, volatile organic compounds or particulate matter. CO2's harm is not medical, but physical, in terms of the way it compromises the stability of climate systems if too much of it is concentrated in the air.

But the Clean Air Act gives flexible authority to the EPA administrator to regulate air pollutants. For example, at least regarding motor vehicles, Section 202 (a)(1), which was at the heart of the Massachusetts ruling, states:
The Administrator shall by regulation prescribe (and from time to time revise) in accordance with the provisions of this section, standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare. Such standards shall be applicable to such vehicles and engines for their useful life (as determined under subsection (d), relating to useful life of vehicles for purposes of certification), whether such vehicles and engines are designed as complete systems or incorporate devices to prevent or control such pollution.
Notice how the section does not specify the way in which a pollutant might endanger public health or welfare. In fact, the finding in section 101(a)(2) acknowledges the "complexity" of air pollution. No one word better describes the nature of climate change. In the past, complexity had been exploited by skeptics to deny that climate change was occurring due to greenhouse gas emissions.

Even complex processes can hold general truths, however. The EAB ruling is a long-awaited regulatory affirmation from the federal government of that complex but firm truth that CO2 emissions en masse are endangering the public health and welfare.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Talking with Spain

Barack Obama has been President-Elect for five days and already we are starting to see the differences between how he conducts himself compared to how John McCain likely would have.

For example, the President-Elect has already spoken with Spain.

Recall that McCain bewilderingly refused to commit to a meeting with the NATO ally's Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

McCain's reticence was pointed out by Obama in the first debate as well as Joe Biden in the VP debate:
John McCain said as recently as a couple of weeks ago he wouldn't even sit down with the government of Spain, a NATO ally that has troops in Afghanistan with us now. I find that incredible.
We'll welcome you back, multilateralism.

Four Years Later

I started Brudaimonia four years ago, on the night of election day in 2004, after returning dejected from an election party in a downtown Minneapolis hotel. The initial excitement of that night was gradually sucked away over the course of the evening as we learned the result.

I started the blog as an outlet for my frustration, hoping to maintain it with occasional posts on environmental concerns and sustainability, war and peace, foreign policy, religion, and science; highlighting overlooked issues.

Four years later, President-Elect Obama is 72 days from moving into the White House, and our country has a lot of work to do to restore itself to a place where people can thrive. Obama's election was a landmark for one of the three sides of the sustainability triangle. But the great achievement for social sustainability -- an African American president less than a half-century after the long, gripping period of institutional discrimination and segregation -- comes in the midst of great challenges to economic and environmental sustainability.

Regarding the former, the global economic crisis is the global realization that wild, unrestrained capitalism is really just delayed socialism behind a curtain -- socialism, that is, for the large corporations whose greed drove the crisis. Regarding the latter, climate change, the most pressing environmental issue the world has ever faced and the biggest environmental justice issue in world history -- threatens to sneak out of our consciousness as we focus on the economy. But it is front-and-center for those who know that climate change is intimately connected with the long-term health of the global economy.

So we all have work to do. After 72 days, progressives will (thankfully) no longer have at their disposal that crutch of complaining about the many ways in which the Bush administration set this country back. We have to embrace better, smarter government and remember that while cynicism is much easier than hope, hope is the stronger and everlasting force.