As experts draw from the Supreme Court’s June 30 decision that limits the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to force power plants to switch to clean energy, Democrats in the House — led by Southern California Rep. Mike Levine and Katie Porter – are pushing the Biden administration to quickly adopt a slate of detailed rules aimed at improving air and water quality across the country.
A letter signed by Levine, Porter and 28 other House Democrats on Wednesday, June 29, calls on EPA Administrator Michael Regan to take aggressive executive action in 11 areas. These include calls to reduce acceptable levels of harmful particulate matter in the air, remove all lead pipes from public water systems within 10 years, and promote clean vehicle standards by 2030.
The letter also suggests a possible workaround for the EPA to drive emissions limits on power plants without violating the Supreme Court’s latest ruling.
“I don’t think any of us want to go back to a time when smog alerts are the rule rather than the exception,” said Levine, D-San Juan Capistrano, recalling how many such measures are in place in Southern California. were normal. The EPA and other environmental laws in the early 1970s ushered in an era of emphasis on clean air.
“We need to strengthen our air quality standards, not weaken them.”
In its decision on the West Virginia v. EPA case, a conservative majority of the Supreme Court said that EPA overstepped its authority when it imposed such a hard cap on carbon dioxide emissions that it essentially transitioned power plants away from the country. forced to. using coal.
John Barrasso, a ranking member of the Senate Energy Committee, said in a statement, “The court’s decision confirms to Congress, the EPA does not have the authority to make environmental policy.” “We will continue to work to protect the environment while making American energy as clean, reliable and affordable as possible.”
But Levine, who was an environmental lawyer before the 2018 election for the 49th district covering southern Orange County and northern San Diego County, joined nearly 200 other Congress members in signing an amicus brief in January that disputed the notion that the EPA does not have the authority to take comprehensive action. He said Congress passed the Clean Air Act — along with the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act and other major environmental laws — understanding that the appropriate regulatory agency would have “the discretion and latitude to implement actions sent by Congress.” Will be able to. Way.”
“You can’t expect Congress to anticipate every possible action that will result from the legislative process. Otherwise, what’s the point of the regulatory process?” He asked.
Although the ruling does not dilute any of California’s strict environmental laws, Levine said he is concerned about the precedent he has set for other federal agencies, fearing it could “suppress” them from taking proactive action on important issues. Is.
Still, Levine said he’s hopeful that the EPA can move forward on all of the rules he and his allies — including Southern California reps — can do. Nanette Diaz Barragan, Mark Takano and others – outlined in their June 29 letter, allow those executive actions. The agency has under the current authority under the Clean Air Act.
“We cannot let a partisan Supreme Court derail the efforts needed to reduce pollution and protect families,” Porter said. “Our letter outlines the executive actions we believe the Biden administration should begin considering immediately to take appropriate action in light of the court’s decision.”
The request most directly related to a recent Supreme Court decision calls for the EPA to issue binding, federal greenhouse gas limits on new gas-fired power plants, while issuing guidelines only for existing plants. But according to the letter, states would be required to use those guidelines to issue their own binding emissions limits on plants within their borders.
If the EPA does attempt such a maneuver, Robin Kundis Craig, an environmental law professor at USC, said it will first have to figure out a way to define the “best system” to reduce emissions that “degrade the highest”. does not “court and actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The court made it clear Thursday that the EPA may not require massive changes to fuel sources. But Craig said a 2014 decision in the Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA case gave the federal agency considerable authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that are already subject to certain limits under the Clean Air Act. . So she said the agency should have the authority to limit emissions from at least some facilities, which could lead to significant reductions without violating the latest Supreme Court ruling.
After reviewing other requests in the Democrats’ letter, Craig said most remain clearly within the EPA’s authority — though some may still face practical, financial or technical limitations. Here are the details of the other major offerings.
– Reduce permissible levels of fine particulate matter or soot from 12 to 8 micrograms per cubic metre, and reduce ozone pollution levels by 70 to 60 parts per billion. The letter notes that each year about 48,000 premature deaths result from inhalation of particulate matter. Craig said both standards are apparently still within the EPA’s authority, although he added that “some states are still struggling to come into compliance with the EPA’s final revision of the ozone standard.”
– For property owners to remove all lead service lines from public water systems within a decade, set acceptable levels of lead at 5 parts per billion at taps, and increase testing for lead in water. Such rules are working, Craig said. But he said these changes could be costly, especially for smaller and poorer cities that may be most affected. “It becomes a bit of a catch-22 in the absence of significant federal funding to help upgrade,” she said, adding that coordinated infrastructure legislation is needed to make it plausible.
Requires at least a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles by 2030. Given Thursday’s decision, Craig said it would be an interesting question whether the Supreme Court would support the EPA in writing a regulation that could require a nationwide conversion to electric vehicles. by 2030. At the same time, he said the agency has to consider that if electricity for cars comes from coal-fired power plants, “switching to electric vehicles may not result in a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Asked about the idea of Congress pursuing such rules as law rather than relying on the EPA to make changes, Levine said members are discussing options. But he said the point is that he “shouldn’t,” because he believes the EPA still has authority to act.
Because of the public health and climate change impacts, and to obtain the requested protections before the next presidential election, Levine said, there is still a sense of urgency.
“We’ve made tremendous progress because of California’s exemption from the federal Clean Air Act, which was attacked in the previous administration,” he said.
“We can’t just stand idly by and think that California environmental laws or reproductive rights laws or gun violence prevention laws should be taken lightly, simply because they are not.”
The survey shows that the majority of Americans support environmental efforts, Levine said. And he pointed out that such views had been bipartisan for decades, with the EPA created under GOP President Richard Nixon, while the Clean Air Act and other major environmental legislation passed with overwhelming support from both sides of the aisle. Ronald Reagan was governor of California when we got an exemption from the Clean Air Act, while Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the helm when California passed its historic Global Warming Solutions Act.
“Clean air, clean water; They are not partisan issues,” Levine said. “All our lungs, all our bodies, they are all affected by pollution in the same way. And we all want a clean future, not a dirty one.”
The EPA has yet to respond to the letter, a spokesman for Levine’s office said Friday.