By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion Magazine
There have been some interesting and possibly unusual developments in Washington, D.C. and things might turn even stranger as the elections near.
Back in 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court heard complaints against some proposed EPA actions. The court ruled that under the Clean Air Act, EPA was within its authority to regulate greenhouse gases once the gases had been declared a public danger. EPA later issued such a finding, citing carbon dioxide and methane as two prime concerns.
The agency then began developing a series of plans to reduce release of these gases and others, primarily from large sources such as generating plants, refineries and other large industrial sources. Taken as a group, the more than 200 million vehicles on the road also produce a large amount of CO2, and automakers came under scrutiny as well.
One straightforward way of reducing emissions is to reduce the amount of fuel burned in an engine, and one of the results in EPA’s plans were new CAFÉ fuel efficiency requirements for all vehicles in coming years. Other plans, including additional permitting for new construction of industrial plants, are to be phased in within the next five years.
Opponents of the new requirements, mostly large corporations with fixed-site facilities or politicians working along party lines, filed a number of lawsuits against the new rules citing increased costs and undue regulation. Interestingly, the auto industry, through the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, participated in support of the EPA’s position. They said that in spite of the challenges of the new rules, the industry prefers to have one federal standard instead of a patchwork of state requirements.
After the suits were consolidated, they were heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals last February by a three judge panel. Their opinion was presented on June 26th. Saying that the EPA was “unambiguously correct” in setting limits for emissions of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, the judges unanimously decided that the plaintiffs did not have the legal right to challenge rules determining when and how industries must comply with emission regulations.
Based on finding CO2 and other gases as contributors to climate change, EPA’s right to regulate had been affirmed again. Because it is a means to the end of reducing tailpipe emissions, EPA can thus become involved in fuel economy requirements.
But not every one is buying that reasoning. On June 28th, the House Appropriations Committee voted 26-18 to prohibit EPA from setting vehicle emissions limits for the 2017-25 model years, or allowing California to set its own rules. The decision relates to an amendment to a larger funding bill percolating through the House of Representatives.
Supporters say the proposal is not anti-emissions control or against fuel economy, but simply a move to restore fuel efficiency regulation to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which had handled such matters until 2010 when EPA entered the picture.
The amendment and its bill have a long way to go, first in the House and then through the Senate. Additionally, not all amendments survive although the bill may later pass and become law. Both support and opposition follows party lines—no surprise there— and a similar effort last year failed to pass the Senate. Even if it ultimately does pass, supporters admit the new regs could not take effect until 2016.
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