September 27, 2016 Read More →

Op-Ed: The EPA’s Clean Power Plan Has Proven Itself Already

William D. Ruckelshaus and William K. Reilly:

Predictably, the plan has run into a determined legal assault from businesses, industry groups and more than two dozen states, many with economies that rely on coal mining or coal-fired electricity generation, and its fate now lies with the judicial branch. On Tuesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is set to hear a challenge brought by those litigants.

As former administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency who served three Republican presidents, we strongly support the president’s Clean Power Plan. It is consistent with the fundamental, longstanding approach this country has applied in the face of environmental threats. We have filed a supporting brief with the court.

Although states were given the primary responsibility to meet the standards, Congress gave the E.P.A. the power to implement plans of its own if states failed to act. The clear and unmistakable message from Congress to the E.P.A. was to protect the health of Americans.

We have always viewed the E.P.A. first and foremost as a public health agency. In our time running it, both of us faced unanticipated threats to public health. The broad terms of the Clean Air Act gave us authority to act sooner rather than later.

That model — federally set national standards coupled with state planning and implementation — is the bedrock of the legal structure that is now in place to protect public health. The Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Superfund all operate under that framework.

With the Clean Air Act, the success of this approach is clear. Levels of those six major air pollutants regulated by the law — ground-level ozone, particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and lead — have declined substantially, with lead by more than 90 percent, even as the nation’s gross domestic product grew by more than 230 percent.

The current challenge to the E.P.A.’s power-plant rule once again thrusts the role of the states front and center. Principles of states’ rights and responsibilities are at the core of the agency’s approach. The E.P.A. has granted maximum flexibility to states to make the emissions reductions in ways tailored to address their specific circumstances.

Given the explicit deference to state authority embedded in the Clean Air Act, the charge by opponents that this rule amounts to “one of the most aggressive executive branch power grabs,” as one state attorney general put it, simply ignores the law and its success over 45 years.

That law, passed long before climate change had emerged as a looming catastrophe, may not be the ideal tool to address this daunting challenge. But Congress’s failure to take any meaningful action requires the E.P.A. to act with the only tool it has — the Clean Air Act. Once the agency determined that carbon dioxide posed a risk to public health, as it did in 2009, the agency was required to act to reduce that risk, under a 2007 Supreme Court ruling.

The debate about whether the climate is changing is over. The consequences will be drastic if the United States and other countries do nothing. Climate change has no boundaries. It confronts all of us with the reality that what happens anywhere on the planet can affect all of us everywhere.

Full item: Why Obama Is Right on Clean Energy

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