The car-obsessed culture in California has driven (ha ha!) agencies to address the issues of climate change and air quality in more frequent, increasingly stringent and multi-faceted ways. In the latest round of regulation aimed at tackling these ever-present issues, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has announced a package of proposed new rules which it hopes will deliver cleaner air, slash greenhouse gases (GHGs) and rapidly increase numbers of zero-emissions vehicles. The comprehensive Advanced Clean Car program has been in the works for three years and unites the goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the emission of smog-producing pollutants into one single group of rules for cars and light trucks from 2015 through 2025.
Last week the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in an effort to resolve ongoing litigation under the Clean Air Act with environmental groups over dozens of past due state implementation plans (SIP), agreed to a schedule for taking action on more than 40 state plans aimed at lowering haze in national parks and wilderness areas.
Regional haze, the visibility impairment produced by a multitude of sources and activities that emit fine particles and their precursors across a broad geographic area, has decreased the average visual range in western national parks from 140 miles to 35 to 90 miles, and in eastern parks, from 90 miles to 15 to 25 miles. To address this problem, EPA promulgated regulations in 1999 requiring states to develop and submit SIPs to improve visibility in 156 national parks and wilderness areas, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Shenandoah Valley. These plans, which focus on reducing harmful pollution from large, older stationary sources, such as power plants, cement plants and large industrial boilers, were due in December 2007. In January 2009, EPA found that the majority of states had failed to submit their regional haze plans, in full or in part, and in August 2011, the National Parks Conservation Association and Sierra Club, among others, initiated litigation in federal Court to end the on-going delay.
In a letter to the Department of Justice late last week, California and 10 other states, the cites of New York and D.C., as well as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council agreed to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) an extension until November 30th of this year to create regulations limiting the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by power plants before pursuing legal action to enforce a December 2010 settlement.
This all began back in 2006 when these petitioners sued EPA under the Clean Air Act (CAA) upon passage of a final rule regulating utility emissions without limiting GHGs. The petitioners’ position was given teeth following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, in which the court held that carbon dioxide falls within the definition of a pollutant under the CAA. The 2010 settlement required that EPA create the rules by July of 2011. This deadline was extended to the end of September of this year and was then further extended to the end of October. The petitioners stated that they are willing to agree to this third extension “in light of progress made to date.” The extension talks are confidential (since they are really settlement modification discussions), however, various news outlets are reporting that the discussions are centered more around the schedule for rule-making rather than the meat of the rules.