Monday, April 02, 2007

Go Greenhouse Gases, Go!

(the title of this post should be sung to the tune of Speed Racer)

Great googly moogly! The Supreme Court has ruled today against The Prez in not one but TWO major environmental cases. I realize I usually don't write about The Law, but today I am jubilant, so therefore you must learn.


Environmental Defense v. Duke Energy Corp.
This case has to do with a Clean Air Act program known as New Source Review, or NSR for short. The basic idea is that before you're going to build a new facility (be it power plant or whatever), you're going to put the best technology on it (and that requirement is even more stringent if your area is already too polluted). All well and good right? Except that somebody realized that you could circumvent the law by adding on to an existing a plant - for example, your "add-on" would be an entirely new plant built right next door. So to close this loophole, Congress made sure that the NSR program also applies to any facility that has a major upgrade over a certain amount of $.

So what the hell is the case about? Well, some facilities figured another way around the law. See NSR permits say "Hey facility, you can dump this many metric tons of your poisonous shit into the air every hour" Facility says "okey dokey". Except then the facility gets the bright idea and says , "Hey, we usually run for 12 hours a day, how about we run 24 hours a day?! See our permit only says how much we can pollute per hour, not how much we pollute every year. So NO problem! Are we geniuses or what?"

Except that the EPA decided that running additional hours is in violation of these facilities permits. Amazingly, the Supreme Court agreed. The real fallout? Less crap in the air for you and me. Legally speaking, this is how this one should have turned out, and is not a huge surprise, but it is still a pleasant one.


Massachusetts v. EPA
In the clearly more important case, the Supreme Court kind of bitch slapped EPA. EPA was saying that they don't have the authority to regulate greenhouse gasses under Clean Air Act (CAA). Well, this is kinda true and kinda false. They are supposed to regulate Ozone for sure, which is a greenhouse gas. They also regulate Carbon Dioxide under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program -- another Clean Air Act program. Every year the EPA is supposed to review the NAAQS program to determine if there are other things that should be added, so they could have been adding greenhouse gasses to that program. But it's true that presently under the CAA there is no specific greenhouse gas program, but they could do this if they wanted to.

What probably happened behind the scenes is that W. told the EPA they can't do shit about greenhouse gasses. So EPA has been doing nothing about them. See governmental agencies like EPA are sort of quasi-independent: they are technically part of the executive branch and their heads generally answer directly to the president, but the nature of an agency is that it can also do its own thing to a certain extent.

In some senses it might have been good if the court had decided EPA didn't have the authority because some more on point legislation is already in the works and might actually be better than anything EPA will come up with. Then again, that legislation might get pushed through anyway.

Truly, no one is more surprised than I am about this one.

If you want more/better summaries of these cases check out:
CNN
SCOTUSblog
QuizLaw



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