Federal Court Tosses EPA’s ‘Good Neighbor’ Pollution Rule

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this week threw out the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), which set stricter limits on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from coal-burning power plants in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

In a 2–1 ruling, the panel held the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exceeded its authority under the Clean Air Act by requiring upwind states to reduce more than their “fair share” of pollution that degrades air quality in neighboring states. The court also rejected CSAPR for prematurely imposing on states a federal plan for reducing such air pollution. The dissenting judge criticized the majority for exceeding the court’s jurisdictional limits and disregarding well-settled legal precedent.

Having vacated CSAPR, the D.C. Circuit ordered the EPA to draft new rules. In the interim, the EPA must continue implementing the Clean Air Interstate Rule, which was vacated in 2008. The EPA said it will review the ruling before “determining the appropriate course of action,” but some expect the agency to appeal. Otherwise, the job of rewriting the rules will fall to the second Obama Administration or the first Romney Administration.

Environmental and health advocates see the ruling as a setback for air quality, as the EPA predicted the rule would help cut nationwide sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent of 2005 levels and cut nitrogen oxide emissions by 54 percent. Some states, including Texas, celebrated the verdict as a victory against overreaching regulation by the EPA. The impact of the court’s decision on coal-fired power plants is unclear, as coal plants still must comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and compete with low natural gas prices.

Arctic Ice Melt Could Set Record

With two more weeks left in the melting season, some scientists are saying ice in the Arctic Ocean could reach its smallest size yet. Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center predict we could see the ice retreat to less than 1.5 million square miles—39 percent below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000.

Unusually warm weather in Greenland has triggered widespread surface melt and darkened the lower portions of the country’s ice sheet. This trend, according to Stef Lhermitte, a remote sensing analyst at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, could increase the probability of widespread melting in the future.

Carbon Emissions at 20-Year Low

In early 2012, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were at their lowest since 1992, the Energy Information Administration reported. The report attributed the decline to a combination of three factors: a decline in coal generation due to low natural gas prices, reduced household heating demand as a result of an unusually warm winter and low gasoline demand. The New Scientist reported the fall will boost the natural gas industry, but won’t slow climate change. Another new report, which examined 2,500 power plants operated by 100 utilities in the U.S., also found a marked decline in carbon dioxide and other pollutants, primarily as a result of natural gas displacing coal in the nation’s energy mix. The report also found that the utilities’ use of renewables has doubled since 2004.

Most of the new capacity added in 33 states in the first half of the year used natural gas or renewable energy sources—with the majority built over the last 15 years powered by natural gas or wind. Other forms of renewables, such as solar water heating, which could provide cost savings and fewer carbon emissions, have been largely overlooked (subscription required). The potential applications for solar heating units, ClimateWire reports, span from restaurants to large-scale projects like hotels, hospitals, government offices and educational campuses. Pilot customer-side clean projects—like the solar water heating and combined heat and power projects detailed in recent case studies by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions—could help others learn. As Renewable Energy World reports, “solar is contagious.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.