Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Three cheers for lawsuits...

The city of Baltimore (Get in on it!) is joining a bunch of states and assorted rabble rousers in a lawsuit aimed at forcing the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, those pesky people-produced chemicals that are fueling large changes in the composition our atmosphere. From the Sun:

The city, which hasn't had a case before the nation's highest court in decades, is arguing that at least 860 buildings near the Inner Harbor could suffer $420 million in flood damage if the federal government doesn't act on its legal obligation to slow global warming and sea-level rise, according to papers filed with the court.

New York City and the District of Columbia also have joined Massachusetts, California and other states in suing the Bush administration for refusing to regulate carbon dioxide and other global warming gases from vehicles under the Clean Air Act. That law, last revised in 1990, says the EPA shall set standards for emissions that "cause or contribute to air pollution which may be reasonably anticipated to endanger public health or welfare," including through climate or weather.

The arguments in Massachusetts v. EPA are scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow, although a decision is not expected until after February. A win by Baltimore and the other plaintiffs could empower federal and state governments to take action on what some have called the most important environmental issue of our time, while a loss could inhibit efforts to reduce global warming.

"Congress has already acted - and they've given the EPA the clear mandate to regulate air pollutants," said Bill Phelan, principal counsel for the Baltimore city solicitor's office. "And all of the greenhouse gases being considered - carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide - are all things that easily fall within the definition of air pollutants."
(Phelan, huh? That name sounds familiar. Oh yeah.)

In case you're wondering, I support the lawsuit and, by extension, the regulation of greenhouse gases. But then, I tend to think that byproducts of fossil fuel burning that alter our atmosphere with potentially catastrophic consequences should be classified as pollutants, not "Life" or some other inappropriate euphemism. And I'm continually amazed at things like this:
The Bush administration argues in its brief to the Supreme Court that carbon dioxide isn't really a pollutant, but instead a normal and inevitable product of burning oil and coal. The only way to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles is to improve their fuel economy, and these standards are set by the Department of Transportation, not the EPA, the administration argues.
Sulfer dioxide is a normal and inevitable product of burning oil and coal. So are mercury and nitrogen oxides. Yet, all of these are regulated as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

Am I missing something?

7 comments:

Tom Berkhouse said...

Yes, you are missing something, as usual. Have you looked at how much pollutant material is emitted into the atmosphere each year due to volcanic eruption and activity? How about co2 attributable to forest fires and wildfires, like those each year in the midwest?

Have you considered how many jobs will be lost if regulations become overly stringent? NOTE: I did not say to remove ALL regulations, but there needs to be a balance of sorts.

Part of the reason why the Bush administration has modified the EPA regulations is that by doing so companies can incrementally improve their emission control systems. The old EPA regulations required a company that made any facility upgrades or expansions, however small, come into FULL compliance with EPA standards. So, if a company wanted to make a small facility improvement that might cost 1 million dollars, then EPA required full emission upgrade at a cost of 10 million dollars (just a hypothetical), it quickly becomes impractical for the company to expand OR improve their emission controls. Bush's policy would allow the company to do their 1 million expansion and upgrade a portion of their emission controls. That way, a least some emission control is done. Otherwise, companies are just not improving or expanding their facilities AT ALL. That's not a good thing.

All the talk about pollution control, but those same enviro whackos oppose nuclear energy (which is vastly safer and more efficient than back in the 70's).

Solar energy - not reliable, costly, subjec tto weather (which nobody can predict).

And, speaking of pollution and the City of Baltimore, why doesn't O'Malley address the unbelievable amount of sewage contamination of the bay coming from Baltimore, and the businesses in Baltimore. Why hasn't he levied severe fines for infractions and enforced the laws the same as he wants the EPA to. Oh, that's right, doing so might not be taking so well by the companies in his city. I hate to resurrect the "H" word, but it does seem a little hypocritical of him to me.

Hybrid cars - GREAT idea, and they do seem to be gaining popularity. Maybe the government should make it mandatory that everyone own a hybrid car?

I wish I could remember the name of a magazine that my brother-in-law had a few months ago, that dealt entirely with the whole energy/pollution crisis. It was VERY scientific and thorough. I'll see if I can't track it down and post the info about it - it was very informative to me and I'm sure you would find it informative also.

Hayduke - I do support measures to ensure a clean environment. I just think that such measures must be well thought out so as not impact jobs.

Hayduke said...

Yes, you are missing something, as usual. Have you looked at how much pollutant material is emitted into the atmosphere each year due to volcanic eruption and activity? How about co2 attributable to forest fires and wildfires, like those each year in the midwest?

Character attacks, strawman arguments and factual errors all in first paragraph. Great start!

Anyway, you've failed to address the actual point of the post, which is: should CO2 should be treated as a "pollutant" under the existing Clean Air Act, which was last amended in 1990 (and not by the Bush Administration)? Bush has proposed changes to the New Source Review program, which is a part of the CAA but is not really relevant to what I was discussing here.

Also, I'm an enviro whacko who supports nuclear energy, but that, too, is beside the point.

Thankfully, neither you nor I will decide the answer to the question of CO2's status. The Supreme Court will. Unfortunately, I'm afraid, they're about as qualified to rule on this matter as either of us.

Your concerns about losing jobs versus protecting the environment are valid, if based on poor assumptions. For all the hooting and hollering about the 1990 amendments to the CAA -- those which largely eliminated Acid Rain as a concern, thanks to a cap and trade permitting process -- the impact on the economy was nill. This is usually the case with new environmental regulations.
The economy and environmnent are both dynamic and adaptable systems.

The precautionary principle is widely used as a rationale for our international policies, yet when it comes to matters of the environment our standard for action seems considerably higher, even if the risks of actual harm are the same. But we're horrible -- as a species -- at assessing risk (see nuclear power).

Hayduke said...

Regarding the volcanic eruptions and forest fires. These things have been occuring for many thousands of years. Yet, from the end of the last ice age -- about 10,000 years ago -- until the industrial revolution, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was relatively stable, suggesting that emmissions from volcanoes and forest fires we're balanced by carbon sequestration elsewhere (trees and oceans, mainly). It wasn't until humans started burning fossil fuels that we saw a dramatic and unprecedented rise in CO2 concentrations. See here .

Anonymous said...

Tom,

Solar energy not reliable? Last time I checked, the sun comes up every day and, reading the almanac, it looks like it will keep doing so for a while.

Solar energy costly? It runs about 10-14 cents/kW now. Check your electric bill (which also includes a distribution cost/kW) and see how that compares.

Keep in mind the CAA grandfathered in old plants permitting them to delay full compliance with EPA standards, but required new plants to immediately fully meet EPA standards. CAA required, when old plants wanted to increase capacity that they, too, like new plants, would be then required to meet current standards.

Relaxing CAA could be construed to have subsidized expansion of these higher-pollutant-emitting existing generators, while those companies wanting to build clean new plants still had to meet EPA standards.

Those enviro whackos are against what?

Want to protect jobs relative to global warming? Great.

The times, they are a-changin'.

Tom Berkhouse said...

Anon,

Solar energy systems are VERY expensive to install. The time it takes to recoup the costs is not porportionate to those costs. That's why very few people install and use solar energy systems.

What was meant by solar energy being unreliable is that the sun don't shine every day, 24 hours a day. And, the power that is harnessed is not necessarily enough to fully energize a house or company. So, the owner has to have a standard energy system also, which also has a cost.

Hayduke - in some ways I don't think what the Supreme Court decides matters, although for purposes of government process, they are the final stop. I'm certainly not an expert, you may be more so than me, and maybe more so than the 9 robed wonders.

My point was that the classification on CO2 is moot. How it is dealt with, via EPA policies and all of these frivolous (somewhat) lawsuits, is what matters. I was responding to what I thought was a point you were making about the Bush administrations perceived/misunderstood lax enforcement of EPA regulations, to show the rationale behind it (eg: some improvements in emission controls is better than no improvements. The all or nothing approach is onerous to businesses).

I'm still trying to track down that magazine because it really was excellent in discussing the whole energy-pollution issue.

Tom Berkhouse said...

Hayduke,

I know my opening paragraph was "hysteria", that was intended to a degree. Just wanted to counter the hysteria from the extremists on the other side of the debate - not that I would put you in the category. Being concerned about the environment is not extremist, but some environmentalists do go way too far with their policy demands.

I have to disagree with you about the economic impact of enforcement being nill. There may not be millions of jobs lost, but even a 1,000 jobs is something that should not be dismissed lightly. That's still a 1,000 people whose lives are being turned upside down.

Anonymous said...

"whackos" and "extremists on the other side of the debate"?

The sun indeed does not shine everyday. Nor does it shine at night. Ever heard of batteries and other power storage systems such as flywheels? Businesses are buying flywheels to store off-peak consumed power for use at on-peak times.

ROI time on solar systems continues to drop. Fossil fuel costs have risen drastically and will continue to do so. Whacko might be ignoring that's the case.

http://www.housingzone.com/probuilder/article/CA6340267.html sheds a little more, shall we say, light.

If jobs are lost, don't blame the regs. Blame the globalization landscape that allows offshoring manufacturing to countries that ignore environmental pollution (to the world's detriment) and allows those goods to be imported without ample tariffs to countries having adequate regs.

I look forward to that magazine article and I'd answer your assertions more thoroughly, Tom, but my legs are tired from pedaling this generator so I can stay onli