The Economist February 13th 2016


Climate change



Supreme emissions

The nine justices press pause on one of the president's proudest achievements



A MERICA'S bold effort to cut carbon-di-oxide emissions from power plants is on hold. On February 9th the Supreme Court, divided five to four along partisan lines, putting the brakes on Barack Obama's flagship environmental policy, pending a possible ruling this summer. The plan forms the core of America's recent commitments to cut emissions, made at the UN climate talks in Paris.


Power plants are America's largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for just under a third of all emissions. The Clean Power Plan, under the authority;bf the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), gives orders to each state which, considered together, should amount to removing 870m tonnes of carbon dioxide from power-station emissions by 2030 (as measured against 2005 levels). The regulations give states some flexibility over how and when to cut emissions. But each one is required to submit plans by 2018 and to show some progress on them by 2022. If the goals are met, the reduction by 2030 will be equivalent to taking 80m cars off the road.


The legal basis for the regulation was thought to lie in a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2007, which declared C02 a pollutant, thereby placing it under the EPA's remit. The court upheld most of an agency rule requiring new or rebuilt factories and power plants to use the "best available technology" to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases in 2014. That year the justices also supported the EPA's regulation of pollution that drifts over state lines. But the agency was rebuked for its overreach in 2015: the Supreme Court reprimanded it for regulating mercury, arsenic and other substances emitted by power plants without taking proper account of the costs. The Court's new order suggests it may eventually conclude that the president has again exceeded his authority.


States, utilities and mining companies have declared the plan to be too much, too soon. The attorney-general of West Virginia, one of the states opposing it, said he was "thrilled" after the court issued its stay. Richard Lazarus, from Harvard Law School, calls the intervention "extraordinary". Although compliance with the regulation is not required until 2022, the deadline for submitting first plans to cut hack on emissions was supposed to be September. (States also had the option then to ask for more time.) That date will now almost certainly need to be pushed back. ■


WHY  ON  EARTH  IS  IT  TAKING  SO  LONG  FOR  NORTH  AMERICA  TO  DO  WHAT  BRITAIN  DID  DECADES  AGO?  THERE  IS  NO  SMOKE  COMING  FROM  INDUSTRY  IN  BRITAIN;  THEY  WERE  ABLE  TO  SAND-BLAST  BUILDINGS  AND  MAKE  THEM  LOOK  NEW  AGAIN,  WHERE  THEY  WERE  COATED  WITH  DIRT  FROM  INDUSTRY.  I  GREW  UP  IN  A  YORKSHIRE  TOWN  WHERE  THE  DOWN-TOWN  BUILDINGS  WERE  BLACK;  VISITING  SOME  DECADES  AGO  I  WAS  PLEASANTLY  SURPRISED  TO  SEE  THOSE  DIRTY  BUILDINGS  LOOKING  LIKE  NEW.  AT  THE  TIME  THEY  WERE  HALF  FINISHED  WITH  SAND-BLASTING  WESTMINSTER  ABBEY,  IN  LONDON  -  WHAT  A  DIFFERENCE  WHEN  YOU  SAW  THE  OLD  AND  THEN  THE  NEW.  THEY  HAVE  "GREEN  ZONES"  WHERE  IT  IS  ILLEGAL  TO  HAVE  A  FIREPLACE  FOR  BURNING  WOOD  OR  COAL;  YOU  MUST  HAVE  ELECTRIC  OR  GAS  FIREPLACES.

IT  IS  SICKENING  TO  SEE  THAT  NORTH  AMERICA [USA  AND  CANADA]  STILL  SO  FAR  BEHIND  THE  MODERN  AGE….. GOT  TO  BE  SOME  BIG  POWERFUL  LOBBY  COMPANIES,  OR  SILLY  POLITICAL  WRANGLING   GOING  ON….. DUMB  AND  DUMBER!!!


Keith Hunt