In a letter dated 5 February 2009, 17 state attorneys general (AGs) plus three other non-federal officials urge EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to respond to the Supreme Court case of Massachusetts v. EPA (2007) by issuing a finding that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to “air pollution” that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.
To explain why EPA should make an endangerment finding, the AGs quote from EPA’s July 2008 Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR): “The IPCC projects with virtual certainty (i.e., a greater than 99% likelihood) declining air quality in cities due to warmer days and nights, and fewer cold days and nights, and/or more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas, including the U.S.” In the ANPR, EPA goes on to say that the increase in air pollution from global warming will lead to “increases in regional ozone pollution, with associated risks for respiratory infection, aggravation of asthma, and potential premature death, especially for people in susceptible groups.”
This chain of reasoning flies in the face of history and public policy reality.
As American Enterprise Institute scholar Joel Schwartz documents, air quality in U.S. cities has improved steadily over the past three decades as urban air temperatures have increased. Nobody should know this better than EPA, because EPA deserves much of the credit and regularly publishes the relevant data. From 1980 to 2006, emissions of the six criteria pollutants fell by the following amounts: lead, 97%; oxides of nitrogen, 33%; volatile organic compounds, 52%; sulfur dioxide, 47%; carbon monoxide, 50%; PM10, 28%; and PM2.5, 31%. As a consequence, ambient concentrations of polluting emissions also declined. From 1980 to 2007, air pollution levels fell by the following amounts: nitrogen dioxide, 43%; sulfur dioxide, 68%; and ground-level ozone, 21%.
More importantly, under existing regulatory requirements, air pollution emissions and concentrations will continue to decline despite potential climate change. Schwartz explains:
EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) requires power plant SO2 and NOX emissions to decline more than 70% and 60%, respectively, during the next two decades, when compared with 2003 emissions. This is a cap on total emissions from power plants that remains in place independent of growth in electricity demand. [Note, in July 2008, the D.C. District Court of Appeals overturned CAIR, but whatever EPA puts in its place will likely be even more stringent.]
Recently implemented requirements for new automobiles and diesel trucks, and upcoming standards for new off-road diesel equipment will eliminate more than 80% of their VOC, NOX, and soot emissions during the next few decades, even after accounting for growth in total driving. Dozens of other federal and state requirements will eliminate most remaining emissions from other sources of air pollution.
We may “reasonably anticipate” that in 20 years most U.S. air pollution problems will have been solved, and that by mid-century significant air pollution will exist only in history books.
So the AGs are advising Jackson to act on the basis of bogus “science” that EPA parroted from the IPCC without due diligence.
The AGs are a notoriously unreliable bunch. When litigating Massachusetts v. EPA, they said that the case posed no risks to the U.S. economy because it solely concerned one subset of mobile emission sources (new motor vehicles) under one provision of the Clean Air Act (§202), which requires EPA to consider compliance costs when setting emission standards. The only significant consequence of promulgating first-ever GHG emission standards for new cars and trucks, they said, was that we’d all get better gas mileage and suffer less pain at the pump.
In reality, as EPA’s ANPR and numerous comments thereon reveal, the Clean Air Act is a highly interconnected statute. Setting GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles would initiate a regulatory cascade through multiple provisions of the Act, exposing 1.2 million previously unregulated buildings and facilities to costly and time-consuming regulation under the Act’s Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) pre-construction permitting program, and millions of such sources to pointless paperwork burdens and emission fees under the Title V operating permits program.
Nor is that all. The endangerment finding that would compel EPA to establish GHG emission standards for new motor vehicles would also set a precedent for establishing National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for greenhouse gases. As I explain here, this could lead to the promulgation of NAAQS for carbon dioxide and other GHGs that the United States could not attain even through outright de-industrialization.
In short, if Ms. Jackson acts on the AGs’ advice, she would start a process that could turn the Clean Air Act into a gigantic de-stimulus package.