Regulating Greenhouse Gases under the Clean Air Act
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The earth continues to get hotter as a result of anthropogenic climate change and adverse effects will increase in frequency and severity for populations and economies across the United States. There is clear scientific consensus that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be dramatically decreased to effectively slow or reverse climate change. The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) agreement in Paris represents a unique and historic opportunity for the international community, including the US and China, the world’s largest emitters, to decrease GHG emissions. In the US, however, policy responses to reduce GHG emissions have been obstructed by Congress or the courts and policy alternatives must be considered. Since the legislative branch does not have the ability or will to address climate change, executive action is the most viable way forward. Using a variety of tools including the Clean Air Act (CAA) as a case study, cost-benefit analysis, forecasting, and simulations of scaling-up of state plans, analysis in this paper indicates that the best policy option available is to regulate GHG gas emissions under section 108 of the CAA by executive order of the President. Under this policy option, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would set GHG emissions reduction levels that would be implemented at individual state levels, which analysis shows to be the most effective, efficient, and feasible option within the current political climate. Further, Section 108 of the CAA and the Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts vs. the EPA provide a firm statutory foundation and judicial precedence for regulating GHG emissions under the CAA. As a result, President Obama should issue an executive order directing the EPA to use its authority under section 108 of the CAA to list six greenhouse gases as criteria pollutants, establish emission standards for each, and start the rulemaking process as soon as possible. Simultaneously, the White House should start building a coalition of elected officials, states, businesses, and interest groups for a media campaign in support of this proposal.