Full Title: U.S. Climate Action Under the Clean Air Act
Author(s): Claire Langley. Joel Finkelstein, Andres Restrepo, and Joanne Spalding
Publisher(s): Climate Advisers and the Sierra Club
Publication Date: 07/2015
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This brief provides a balanced assessment of the risks and challenges facing the Obama administration as it seeks to mitigate climate change using the Clean Air Act (CAA). It outlines the CAA and its applications for regulating domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, summarizes the likely challenges the administration will face in the coming years, and provides political analysis on the extent to which the United States will sustain its recent climate progress after the election of a new President and Congress in late 2016.
The CAA is the primary legislative tool used by the Obama administration to combat air pollution and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Under the CAA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has used several different approaches to regulate GHG’s, with the most far reaching being the Clean Power Plan – a rule to regulate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing fossil fuel power plants. The Clean Power Plan would be the first-ever nationwide set of limitations on CO2, estimated to achieve nearly a 30 percent reduction in emissions from the electricity sector by 2030. The plan is novel in the way it regulates emissions from the electricity sector rather than through individual power plants, and in the flexibility it allows by providing states the opportunity to tailor their approach to local circumstances. These policy innovations are politically and legally significant. On the one hand they help reduce compliance costs and help create local buy-in, while on the other hand they create a greater risk of legal challenges.