September 18, 2006
Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Stake in the EPA Lawsuit
Posted to Author: Pielke Jr., R. | Climate Change
I put this in the comments of an earlier thread, but I thought worth highlighting as well. What are potential effects of EPA regulation of carbon dioxide from automobiles?
Taking a look at data from the US EIA (here):
It projects out to 2030 that the accumulated global carbon dioxide emissions will be 235 GtC. It also projects that of this total about 15 GtC will come from the use of petroleum in the United States. Let's assume all of this comes from cars. Lets further assume the EPA regulates carbon dioxide such that no emissions are allowed.
This would reduce the global total emissions of carbon dioxide from 235 to 220 GtC by 2030 (assuming regulations start January 1, 2007). (The ratio presumably gets smaller further into the future as global emissions are projected t increase faster than US auto emisssions.) I don't think that current climate models are able to differentate bewteen a world with these two values of carbon dioxide emissions, much less predict how one might be different than another.
In short the effects of EPA regulation would likely be nil. So is the lawsuit about publicity? Compelling U.S. participation in an international agreement? Because it sure does not look like it is about reducing the impacts of carbon dioxide on anything perceptible in the United States.
What have I missed?Posted on September 18, 2006 05:42 PM
It's not what you missed Roger - it's that the alarmists have apparently all missed a course that should be required in any scientific discipline - indeed maybe cannot be taught in schools at all and certainly appears to not be required to become a (vocal) Climate Scientist these days - an innate understanding of:
Posted by: Steve Hemphill at September 18, 2006 09:18 PM
You have hit upon the fact of the matter that those in favor of regulation don't want to admit...the effect of the [insert the name of your favoriate CO2 emissions limiting] regulation on climate is essentially nil. This makes it a hard sell...to say the least.
All the science in the world may point to CO2's impact on the climate, but until you come up with a *different* way to provide energy to support the world's 6.5 billion (and growing) people, you are going to be dealing with the effects of an enhancing greenhouse effect. As your little analysis shows (as certainly does ever one ever performed on the matter), marginally cutting back on emissions growth leads you nowhere.
Posted by: Chip Knappenberger at September 19, 2006 09:12 AM
Regulation is similar to our common law system. Just as you can not understand a law by looking at one case, you cannot understand a regulatory scheme by just looking at one regulation.
The lawsuit is just one step in the effort to reduce pollution. There will be more work for other sources of pollution.
It's naive to think that one lawsuit will cover all the aspects of a topic as complex and widespread as global warming.
Posted by: Joseph O'Sullivan at September 19, 2006 09:43 AM
Thanks for your comments. The lawsuit does have to stand on its own merits under US law and precedent. Under the criteria that have been disucssed on the earlier thread for regulation of tailpipe carbon dioxide emissions, it is not at all clear to me that the EPA would choose to regulate given the provisions of US law requiring a harm be identified from the source of the emissions (even if it does have authority).
This is a spearte issue of whetehr it makes sense to reduce carbon dioxide emissions generally.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 19, 2006 09:56 AM
I'm not sure I follow the logic of your post, or the point you are trying to make. Are you saying that the EPA cannot/should not regulate CO2 emissions from the transportation sector because it is difficult to measure the impacts of such measures with accuracy? If that's the case, it's a pretty weak and disengenuous argument IMO.
Just because we don't have to the tools to measure the impacts of any particular initiative doesn't mean that they don't have an impact, and just because the impact of an individual initiative on the problem is small doesn't mean that it isn't worth pursuing...
I suspect I'm not interpreting what you're saying properly because it sounds like you're advancing a common septic argument often put forward on this site by M. Bahner; namely that the u.s. shouldn't adopt Kyoto like targets because it wouldn't have an appreciable impact on global atmospheric concentrations in 2500...
Posted by: Marlowe Johnson at September 19, 2006 11:42 AM
I was addressing the last paragraph. You asked what the lawsuit was about. I do understand why the environmental groups are participating. Its about getting the regulation process started, and its not just about this one interpretation of the clean air act.
Environmental groups litigate when there is a chance to further policy goals. One policy goal of the environmental groups is pollution regulation. This lawsuit is just one small part of their advocacy efforts. Its about the big picture.
As far as the merits of the lawsuit, that is a different and interesting question.
Posted by: Joseph O'Sullivan at September 19, 2006 11:49 AM
Roger, There is nothing wrong with your arithmetic, but I know from reading past posts that you know better than this. Are you just trying to be provocative?
As you well know, nobody who knows anything about the problem of antropogenic climate change would suggest that regulating one sector in one country is going to solve the problem all by itself. Suggesting so when you know better is, to use a favorite word of yours, disingenuous.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at September 19, 2006 12:17 PM
Thanks for your reply.
If I am not mistaken the EPA lawsuit is about regulating carbon dioxide emissions in one sector in he United States, correct? It will be evaluated on this basis, correct?
Thus the question about EPA regulation is whether greenhouse gas emissions from that sector "may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare" under Section 202(a)(1) of the CAA.
The numbers which I present, and which you do not dispute, suggest that whatever the merits of reducing global carbon dioxide emissions (which I think makes sense), regulation those carbon dioxide emisisons from auto tailpipes over which EPA has authority to regulate and which are the subject of the lawsuit are unlikely to have a discernible influence on future climate, even if those emissions are reduced 100%.
This seems to me to be a completely fair and accurate point to make in the context of the lawsuit. If you think that EPA regulation of tailpipe carbon dioxide is necesary or sufficient have discerible effects on public health or welfare, then do make the case.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 19, 2006 02:15 PM
It seems to me that the only useful point you seem to be making here is that the language of the CAA is written in such a way that prevents it (the act) from addressing an environmental threat like climate change, which is global, diffuse, and long-term. If that's the case, then I agree, and wouldn't be surprised if the lawsuit is lost on that basis (although I'm curious how this would compare with ozone depletion). However, it may also turn out that the SC will not take such a narrow view on Section 202(a)(1) of the CAA, in which case the lawsuit could very well succeed. Time will tell.
Of course all this really means is that new legislation would then be needed to regulate AGW emissions. This would take more time and presumably delay any significant action further, which of course is precisely the goal of some stakeholders.
Posted by: Marlowe Johnson at September 19, 2006 04:29 PM
Thanks Marlowe- Indeed that is my point. (Obvious or not, useful or not;-)
On ozone depletion the US share of CFCs was far larger than the 6% share of carbon dioxide mentioned here (and the actual number is more like 3%).
As I discussed in an earlier post, I do not think that delay, at least a decade or so, is the major concern on this issue.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 19, 2006 05:14 PM
You are right, the legal question is a somewhat different issue from the general policy question posed in your post.
Our lawyers do not seem to think this particular issue poses any legal problem for the case, because Congress (perhaps not surprisingly) anticipated the multiple-sources-from-different-sectors aspect of air pollution problems, and explicitly wrote the law to cover this contingency.
The relevant part of CAA Section 202(a)(1) (which I quoted in full on the other thread) prescribes standards for the regulation of emissions which “cause, **or contribute to,** air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.” (emphasis added for the obvious reason).
I hope this clarifies the matter for you and the other commenters.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at September 19, 2006 06:29 PM
Thanks. This conversation highlights the importants of judicial discretion and -- dare I say it -- politics in court decisions. I have no idea how the SC will rule, but clearly there are a legitimate diversity of views on what the best course of action by the SC.
If is is any consolation, it is interesting to note that your perspective and that of Marlo Lewis of CEI (see the other thread on this topic) are entirely compatible. You seem to disagree on what side you'd come down on but agree on the logic and significance of the ruling.
Who says there is no room for compromise on climate issues?;-)
In any case, you are invited back to share you views on the lawsuit once decided, however it turns out.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 19, 2006 08:35 PM
Thanks for including the full clause of section 202(a)(1). I can't help but wonder why Roger left it out in his earlier comment. Is it because "contribute to" is clearly vital to its interpretation and pokes a pretty big hole in the logic of Roger's post? Seems pretty sneaky to me. A more charitable interpretation might be that the professor was simply giving a lesson that shows the importance of checking source material and not simply relying on selective quotes by others...
It seems to me that there are some other issues here.
1) Can CO2 be captured as "pollution"? if not, then one could argue that the rest of the clause doesn't apply and the CAA can't be used to regulate CO2. Not a very strong argument IMO, but one that has been made in the past and has been made in other jurisdictions. In Canada, for example, there bas been some debate about whether or not CO2 could be regulated under CEPA for the same reason (i.e., is it considered a pollutant).
2) "endagers public health or welfare". IMO this is the more interesting question, and the one that is most open to debate. What metric does one measure impacts on health? increased deaths from heat less decreased deaths from cold? While this is a bit of a no-brainer for the less developed countries that will be impacted by climate change, I'm not sure that the same applies for the U.S., which is the test that the CAA applies to.
Talking about "welfare" is even more nebulous in this context IMO because there isn't a standard common usage definition that everyone will agree upon. Having had some experience drafting environmental legislation, one of the things that I learned was how important it was to only use language which had a common understanding that was not subject to multiple interpretations and to define other terms that might be subject to interpretation. Maybe others would disagree?
Just some thoughts. And despite what criticisms Roger, I still appreciate you taking the time to post on this topic.
Posted by: Marlowe Johnson at September 20, 2006 11:44 AM
Thanks for your participation.
On "contribute to" you are right I should have included it (20-20 hindsight, sorry), but I actually do not see it as making a difference to the point I am making in this post.
(And please, no more of the conspiracy theories. Everyone knows that Prometheus readers are plenty smart and intentional efforts to mislead will only backfire. Please give me and our readers a little credit and allow everyone here to make a mistake every so often without immediately jumping to criticize motives. Thx!)
If climate models cannot distinguish between the impacts of of 235 GtC and 220 GtC (I've since learned that automobiles use about 65% of petroleum in the US, so this number would be more like 225 GtC) in their realizations, then there is no basis for arguing that automobile emissions "contribute to" climate impacts, other than the obvious statement that in sufficent quantities in the atmosphere greenhouse gases generally have an impact (which if you read is exactly what the scientists' brief was very careful to say, they do not at all discuss the relative role of auto emissions, itself an interesting omission).
Let me put this another way. If there is no basis for arguing that regulation of US automobile emissions of carbon dioxide will have discernible effects, except as part of a broader international regulatory approach that reduces emissions far beyond what is under EPA's jurisdiction over automobiles, then I would not expect that action would be taken on this one particular regulatory issue. Again, these are my views, others will have different views.
Call this a Catch-22 or chicken-and-egg problem, and I'd agree. But recognize that it is this logic (present not just in the EPA lawsuit) that led me to argue for localizing and temporalizing the climate issue on shorter-terms in my recent Congressional testimony:
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 20, 2006 12:10 PM
The conspiracy suggestion was playful not serious, apologies if came out that way :). Just to clarify, are you suggesting that the EPA CANNOT regulate a sector if it cannot measure a 'discernable' impact of a particular measure? Frankly I find this hard to believe, since this would preclude the EPA from regulating all kinds of small pollution sources that individually don't contribute much to smog, for example (or at least not in a statistically significant discernable way). Maybe dumping waste into the ocean/great lakes is a better example (although I don't know if/how this is covered by the EPA)...
Let me ask this another way. Are you suggesting that the lawsuit would have a greater chance of success if it focused on CO2 in general, rather than CO2 from a particular sector?
Also, I'm not sure I understand how "localizing and temporalizing the climate issue on shorter-terms" contributes to a better public understanding or more effective policies on climate change (given the time lag and the assymetrical nature of the costs/benefits). If anything, I would suggest that it would do the opposite -- by showing how small impacts would be in the short-term and on a local scale, emphasing short-term and local only reinforces the existing bias we all have to do less now and more later...
At any rate I'm going to actually read the link you provided now :), so feel free to chastize me if it's explained there.
Posted by: Marlowe Johnson at September 20, 2006 02:14 PM
Again, it's not a matter of your views vs. my views, it's a question of what the law is.
I am no expert on the law, but am reliably informed by those who are that the right interpretation of the CAA 202 standard (according to settled law, so it won't likely be an issue in this case) is exactly what it seems to be: It asks (a) Can the pollution in question (CO2 and GHG's in this case) "reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare"? and (b) do the emissions in question "cause or contribute to" this pollution?
My understanding is that Marlowe is right, and that interpreting this the way you suggest (do the individual emissions themselves contribute to... endagerment?) is contrary to precedent and would upend vast areas of established air pollution regulations.
That is why we did not discuss it in the brief: because it wasn't relevant (so we were told) to the legal issues at hand.
Again, everybody who supposedly knows (ie. not me or any of the scientists) is anticipating the legal battleground of this case to lie elsewhere: first, on whether GHG's are "pollutants" within the meaning of the CAA, and second, just how constrained is the administrator's judgement in determining whether the "reasonable anticipation of endangerment" standard is met.
But as everyone will acknowledge, predicting the Supreme COurt is a tricky business. I certainly am not going to try and predict what they will do here.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at September 20, 2006 02:52 PM
Thanks. I agree with you that our interpretation of the law is not what matters, but nonetheless we can certainly still discuss it here. The people whose views matter are Clarence Thomas, David Souter, et al. But lets not forget that questions of law are a matter of interpretation, not formulaic application.
I would argue that there is no air pollution precedent that is directly relevant to this case. Of course, the foundation of legal argument is precedents, so competing sides will of try to argue their views in the context of precendents, which may or may not fit. I assume that the people you have been talking to are mainly from your side of the issue. But surely the other side probably thinks they have a good case also. My views on the lack of good precedent is why I think that this issue requires legislative action.
One reason that I think that there is no precedent is the long-term, global nature of the problem in the context of extremely distributed sources of carbon dioxide, which is the original reason for my post. Ozone depletion was by contrast a point source issue. This issue may never come up in the SC, nonetheless, I do think it is worth discussing, if nothing else to clarify my own thinking about the issue.
Let me say that I don't have strong feelings about the case one way or the other. I don't think that it is as significant as you or the CEI does (I could easily be wrong), and whatever the outcome I doubt it will much change the policy landscape of the climate issue (I could be wrong;-), though it will obviously have considerable political ramifications.
Were I on the Court, I'd personally send this issue right back to Congress, quite apart from the merits of the case, for reasons I've already discussed.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 20, 2006 03:29 PM
Thanks. As I have learned in the school of hard knocks subtle humor does not translate well on a blog;-) No worries . . .
To answer your question: "Just to clarify, are you suggesting that the EPA CANNOT regulate a sector if it cannot measure a 'discernable' impact of a particular measure?"
No. I am not saying "cannot". I'm just not sure how much sense it makes to regulate a substance if the regulations can have no discernible effect on impacts.
You also ask: "Are you suggesting that the lawsuit would have a greater chance of success if it focused on CO2 in general, rather than CO2 from a particular sector?"
No. Any US lawsuit has to be focused on agencies with jurisdiction in the US. What I am suggesting is that any such piecemeal approach has some obvious logical problems. Work that I have cited here before about why cities and states are taking what looks like piecemeal approaches suggests that those actions are motivated by other reasons with climate change being a side benefit (even if justified by climate change). I think that federal gov't action will occur for the same reasons. See my recent testimony for discussion.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 20, 2006 03:35 PM
Roger, I think one issue we seem to agree on is that the prefered couse of action would be for Congress (and negotiators in the international arena) to deal with this in an integrated fashion. I don't think anyone on either side anticipates that the resolution of this lawsuit, or any of the others in the pipeline, is going to address this in any satisfactory way.
Your reference to CFC's being primarily a point source problem is incorrect. Individual car AC's, refrigerators, aersol spray cans, and fire extinguishers are as distributed as you can get. There are similarities and differences between the problems of stratospheric ozone depletion and global climate change, but surely the distributed nature of the pollutants that cause them is one of the similarities.
Posted by: Scott Saleska at September 20, 2006 09:53 PM
Thanks Scott- On CFCs we can agree to disagree. there were something like 6 companies that produced the vast majority of CFCs. Once those companies decided to pursue substitutes -- game over.
It's a little like calling computer users point sources of Windows operating systems;-)
See this analaysis:
Pielke, Jr., R. A., and M. M. Betsill, 1997: Policy for Science for Policy: Ozone Depletion and Acid Rain Revisited. Research Policy, 26, 157-168.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 20, 2006 10:21 PM
A reader emailed me asking for specific references for the numbers presented in this post from the EIA website, here they are:
235 GtC 2007-2030 here (column "Total"):
15 GtC from US petroleum use 2007-2030 here (under transportation, row "Total"):
The data is expressed in tons carbon dioxide, so need to be divided by 3.664 to gets tons carbon.
Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr. at September 24, 2006 12:51 PM