How the Clean Power Plan Harms Public Health by Sucking up EPA’s Time & Energy

by William Yeatman on December 2, 2014

in Blog, Features

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Earlier today, I posted CEI’s comments on EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Ours were but a drop in a sea of arguments. According to NRDC, there are 8 million submissions in support of the rule. Many millions more have been submitted in opposition to what the agency is trying to do (including ours).

For EPA, now comes the hard part. In order to render a reasoned (and, therefore, a permissible) final regulation, the agency must sift through each of these comments and respond to all unique and salient arguments. Of course, millions of these comments are “form emails,” circulated by advocacy groups. These won’t take much time at all to process. However, millions of comments will be of the detailed and technical sort that my colleague Marlo Lewis and I submitted last evening. These comments amount to scores of millions of pages—perhaps hundreds of millions—and each one is filled with complex language. Reviewing this mountain of information will require hundreds of thousands of hours of labor. This is a major reason why EPA made its regulatory regime for climate change mitigation its top budget priority.

Thus, the Clean Power Plan will dominate EPA’s attention for the foreseeable future. In the words of EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, this is an “all hands on deck” effort.

In this context, it is notable that this is a discretionary rule. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy is to issue §111(d) standards (i.e., the provision that authorizes the Clean Power Plan) only when doing so is appropriate. As such, there is no statutory requirement to issue this rule. There are, however, hundreds of non-discretionary duties that the Congress required EPA to perform. Regrettably, the agency has done a terrible job of meeting its non-discretionary obligations. Since 1994, for example, EPA missed 98 percent of its date-certain deadlines (196 of 200) in three core Clean Air Act programs, by an average of more than 5 years. For all administrator McCarthy’s talk about the need to protect children from asthma, she has done a poor job of walking the walk. In fact, the agency has shown little interest in timely meeting its responsibilities to control conventional pollutants.

In light of the fact that EPA administrator Gina McCarthy has conceded that the agency’s climate change mitigation rules won’t actually mitigate climate change (because the preponderance of emissions originate outside U.S. borders), EPA’s Clean Power Plan poses a distinct threat to public health, by sucking up all the agency’s time and energy that could be spent addressing conventional pollutants.

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