CPR Archive for Daniel Farber
Slowly and Grudgingly, Change Is Coming to Coal Country
A sign of the times: Fox News has reported, without comment, that the Kentucky Coal Museum is installing solar panels to save money. This is part of a larger trend.
On Saturday, the New York Times reported on shifts in power production in states like West Virginia and Kentucky. For instance, Appalachian Power has “closed three coal-fired plants and converted two others to gas, reducing its dependence on coal to 61 percent last year, down from 74 percent in 2012.” In response to an inquiry from the Governor, the company said it has no plans to build another coal plant. In Kentucky, the Public Utility Commission has advised companies about offering renewable energy packages in order to attract large corporations, many of whom have strong green energy programs.
Similarly, in Wyoming, Microsoft made a deal to get wind power for its new data center. In fact, according to the Energy Information Agency, Wyoming gets nearly 10% of its power from wind, making it 15th in the nation.
Corporate pressure has made a difference beyond these states, according to the Times:
Last year, utilities made deals with corporate customers through rate arrangements known as green tariffs for 220 megawatts of power, enough to run about 40,000 average American homes. Thus far this year, there have been 360 megawatts worth of agreements, with an additional 465 megawatts under negotiation.
It seems that efforts at corporate sustainability, which I’ve posted about previously, are actually having
President Trump ordered EPA and the Army Corps to review the Obama Administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which sets expansive bounds on federal jurisdiction over water bodies and wetlands. The agencies have sent the White House a proposal to rescind the WOTUS rule and revert to earlier rules until they can come up with a replacement. In my view, either the agencies will have to dive deep into the scientific thicket in the hope of justifying a new
Thinking Globally, Acting Transnationally
The U.S. government obviously isn't going to be taking a global leadership role regarding climate change, not for the next four years. At one time, that would have been the end of the story: the only way to accomplish anything internationally was through national governments. But we live in a different world today, and there are other channels for international action against climate change. Today, transnational networks of state and local governments, private firms, and NGOs are actively addressing climate
Is Texas Cleaning Up Its Act?
At a national meeting of state utility regulators, the head of the group recently said that the Clean Power Plan was basically dead, but this might not matter because "arguably, you're seeing market-based decarbonization" due to technological changes. Case in point: Texas. Market trends are pushing Republican stronghold Texas toward a cleaner grid. ERCOT, which operates nearly all of the state's grid, recently projected that in the next fifteen years, Texas will add almost 20 gigawatts of solar, equivalent to 15-20
The Owls in the Vineyard
It's smart to take precautions against climate change. More can be done, even in the Trump era. At night, you can hear the hooting of owls in the vineyard. The owners have deployed owls and falcons to control the pests that threaten the Kendall Jackson vineyards due to milder winters. But birds of prey aren't the only things flying above the vineyard. There are also drones, which are used to observe small differences in the color of the vines that
A Win-Win Energy Law in Illinois
It went pretty much unheralded by the national media, but in December, Illinois adopted a major new energy law – and with strong bipartisan support. Each side had some things to celebrate. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner touted the impact of the law on utility bills. According to the governor, the law "contains a guaranteed cap that energy prices cannot increase more than 25 cents on the average residential home, and cannot increase more than 1.3 percent on commercial and industrial
GOP Mayor: Let's Talk About the Octopus in the Room
Jim Cason, the GOP mayor of Coral Gables, Florida, wants us to talk about climate change: "'We're looking to a future where we're going to be underwater, a great portion of South Florida,' Cason said. 'For all of us down here, this is really not a partisan issue. We see it. We see the octopus in the room, not the elephant.'" (E&E News) An octopus in the room? It's a striking image. If you're wondering what prompted that unusual metaphor, Rob Verchick
The New NEPA Guidance
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued new guidance this week on considering climate change in environmental impact statements (EIS). Here are the key points: Quantification. The guidance recommends that agencies quantify projected direct and indirect emissions, using the amount of emissions as a proxy for the eventual impact on climate change. The EIS should also discuss the impacts of climate change, referring to government reports on the subject for conclusions. A formal cost-benefit analysis is not required
Statutory Standing After the Spokeo Decision
One of the recurring questions in standing law is the extent to which Congress can change the application of the standing doctrine. A recent Supreme Court opinion in a non-environmental case sheds some light – not a lot, but some – on this recurring question. The Court has made it clear that there is a constitutional core of the doctrine with three elements: a concrete injury in fact, a causal link between the injury and the defendant's conduct, and a
The Road to Improved Compliance
As I wrote earlier this week, environmental enforcement is not nearly as effective as it should be. EPA and others have been working on finding creative ways of obtaining compliance, often with the help of new technology. One aspect of enforcement that has become clear is the need to focus on small, dispersed sources that may cumulatively cause major problems. EPA has focused its past efforts on the largest non-complying facilities. But EPA has found serious noncompliance in terms of
Strong Regs, Spotty Enforcement
The political debate over regulation tends to focus on the regulations themselves. But enforcing the regulations is just as important. Despite what you might think from the howls of business groups and conservative commentators, the enforcement system is not nearly as strong as it should be. Twenty years after passage of the Clean Water Act, roughly ten thousand discharges still had no permits whatsoever, 12-13 percent percent of major private and municipal sources were in a "Significant Noncompliance" status during
The Misleading Argument Against Delegation
It's commonplace to say that agencies engage in lawmaking when they issue rules. Conservatives denounce this as a violation of the constitutional scheme; liberals celebrate it as an instrument of modern government. Both sides agree that in reality, though not in legal form, Congress has delegated its lawmaking power to agencies. But this is mistaking an analogy for an identity. It's true, of course, that Congress has given agencies the authority to make rules, which is one aspect of legislative
The Next Justice and the Fate of the Clean Water Act
Every once in a while, we get reminded of just how much damage the conservative Justices could wreak on environmental law. Last week, Justice Kennedy created shock waves with a casual comment during oral argument. In a case that seemed to involve only a technical issue about administrative procedure, he dropped the suggestion that the Clean Water Act just might be unconstitutionally vague. It didn't seem to faze him that such a ruling would wipe out a statute that has been on
Green Patches Deep in the Heart of Texas
The Texas AG’s office seems to do little else besides battle against EPA, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz is in the vanguard of anti-environmentalism. Yet even in Texas there are some rays of hope. While Texas is attacking the Clean Power Plan, the city of Houston is leading a coalition of cities defending it. Other cities are taking action for non-environmental reasons. The city of Georgetown, Texas, for instance, has announced plans to become 100 percent renewable. Lest there be any misunderstanding, the
A Sea Change in Climate Politics?
There was a surprise question about climate change at the last Republican debate. What was surprising wasn’t the question itself. Instead, it was the source of the question: Tomás Regalado, the Republican mayor of Miami. It turns out that this wasn’t a fluke. Regalado and the Republican mayor of Miami Beach have spoken out in an op-ed about climate change: “The overwhelming scientific consensus is that the rising sea levels are caused by the planet warming, that the burning of
Environmental Enforcement in the Age of Trump
Many thought that the BP Oil Spill would lead to new environmental legislation, as happened after past environmental disasters. That didn’t happen. But something else did happen: BP paid $24 billion in civil and criminal penalties. In an era where any effort at government regulation is immediately denounced as a dire threat to liberty, there was nary a peep out of Republican politicians about these massive penalties. Nor do I hear Trump, Cruz, or Rubio defending Volkswagen from penalties. The moral is
Roberts Denies Mercury Stay
Chief Justice Roberts turned down a request this morning to stay EPA’s mercury rule. Until the past month, this would have been completely un-noteworthy, because such a stay would have been unprecedented. But the Court’s startling recent stay of the EPA Clean Power Plan suggested that the door might have been wide open. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be true. In some ways, a stay in this case would be even more shocking than the earlier one. Only the states, not industry, were
Unleashing the Lower Courts
There’s already been a lot written about how Justice Scalia’s untimely death will affect pending cases, not to mention speculation about the possible nominees to replace him. Less attention has been given to the effect on the lower courts. Yet Justice Scalia’s departure gives liberal judges in lower courts more freedom than they’ve had in the past. Here, I’m specifically thinking of the D.C. Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, which between them are the most important forums for environmental litigation.