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On June 24, 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act of 2009 which gave up to $4,500 to owners of vehicles with poor fuel economy who trade them in for more efficient new vehicles. This "cash-for-clunkers" program was touted as meeting three objectives: increasing vehicle sales, at a time when the U.S. auto industry is struggling; reducing fuel use; and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This column examines the workings of the program as well as describes what kinds of vehicles can be turned in and purchased under it. The column then assesses how well the program meets its stated objectives. In conclusion, the authors found that the program will chiefly benefit the vehicle manufacturers as there is such a narrow differential in mileage between traded-in and new vehicles eligible for credit that the resulting reductions in fuel usage and GHG emissions will be modest. In addition to this, they found that the energy cost of building new vehicles must be factored into the equation as the carbon dioxide payback time for manufacturing vehicles can take several years. Lastly, the column points out that the program greatly affects income distribution as it encourages old cars to be crushed and shredded, thus reducing the supply of old cars and presumably raising the price of those that remain, in turn hurting lower income people.
In recent years the frequency and severity of heavy precipitation and floods in parts of the United States have been increasing to a statistically significant degree, and this trend is expected to worsen. This article summarizes some of the liability issues that result from floods, and efforts to control them. Under governmental liability, the author highlights multiple participating factors including sovereign immunity, structural measures, nonstructural measures, flood-related regulations, and land use regulations. Under private liability, the column points to issues regarding neighboring property owners, dams and other obstructions, overflow, insurance, utilities, and design professionals. Lastly, the author draws upon the Hurricane Katrina Case where the U.S. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in an important case on flood liability.
Numerous federal and state judicial decisions have established that environmental impact statements under the National Environmental Policy Act and its state equivalents should examine the impact of proposed projects on emissions of greenhouse gases. Administrative agencies and court settlements are now establishing the guidelines for the conduct of these examinations. This column surveys the emergence of these new guidelines, which is occurring against a backdrop of accelerated activity in both Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leading towards federal regulation of GHGs. The column looks at these guidelines on the federal level as well as within New York, California, Massachusetts, Washington, and Hawaii.
The central purpose of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is to improve governmental decision making by making relevant information available to officials and by ensuring that everyone affected by the decisions is given a voice. In this article, Michael Gerrard focuses on the effect of NEPA on decisions. First, Gerrard discusses the effect that NEPA has had on internal decision making. Then, he delves into the accuracy of predictions in environmental impact statements. Lastly, Gerrard analyzes what happens to environmental impact statements after the record of decision is issued.
In this piece, Michael B. Gerrard comments on an article by Thomas D. Peterson, Robert B. McKinstry Jr., and John C. Dernbach which held two central insights: (1) Any serious national effort to control emissions of greenhouse gases must continue to leave important roles to the states; and (2) It would be a mistake to put too many eggs in the cap-and-trade basket. Although Gerrard agrees with these insights, he has reservations about the authors' proposal to use the mechanism of national ambient air quality standards and state implementation plans as a way to give states the vital roles they deserve. In discussing alternative methods to this, Gerrard delves into the topics of state action, the national ambient air quality standards, state implementation plans, and lastly, alternative approaches to state roles.
While climate change legislation was mired in Congress, several units in the Obama administration had used their existing statutory authority to adopt rules or guidance requiring extensive disclosure about greenhouse gases in a wide variety of contexts. Every registered public company, the operators of many industrial facilities, and those involved in significant federal actions are now or will soon be covered by one or more of these requirements. In this article, the author explains different disclosure requirements, including the GHG reporting rule, securities disclosure, and lastly, the National Environmental Policy Act.
In 2010, Jonathan Cannon, Michael Vandenbergh, and Michael B. Gerrard planned the conference entitled "Implementing Climate Change Policy" which was aimed at discussing the implementation challenges posed by several pathways to climate regulation. In preparation for this conference, Michael B. Gerrard outlines various implementation strategies for comprehensive climate change policy. In doing so, Gerrard points to four different paths forward for climate change regulation in the United States: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule-making; legislation; state and regional regulation; and litigation. Lastly, Gerrard point to the potential success of climate change policy if these four different pathways are combined and completed together.
On June 20, 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court issued its much-anticipated decision in "American Electric Power v. Connecticut." This is the second climate change case to be decided by that court and the first to concern common law claims, where the plaintiffs claimed that the greenhouse gases from power plants constitute a common law nuisance, and asked the court to issue an injunction requiring the plants to reduce their emissions. The Supreme Court ruled that these kinds of disputes do not belong in the courts, and that the problems of climate change are so diffuse and nonspecific that no one has standing to go to court to challenge any governmental failure to act. This decision resolves a few issues but left many others open including: 1) whether the Supreme Court's decision bars all federal common law nuisance claims, or only those that sought injunctive relief and 2) whether the Clean Air Act preempts state public nuisance litigation over GHGs. The Supreme Court ruling along with the ensuing climate change litigations, such as challenges to federal regulations, state regulations, coal plants, and environmental impact reviews, are the subject of this report.
The high point of congressional support for comprehensive climate change legislation came on June 26, 2009, when the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy Security Act by a vote of 219 to 212. For several years the proponents of climate regulation have pinned their hopes on Congress. Now, the principal action is shifting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the courts and the states, though important questions will still be faced by Congress. This column surveys what is likely to happen with climate regulation without any congressional action. The author highlights the topics of renewable electricity, EPA action, state and regional action, litigation, and international agreements.
Litigation aiming to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases is coming to be dominated by battles over coal-fired power plants. Ten of the last 20 judicial or administrative decisions or case filings in matters aiming to reduce emissions of Greenhouse Gasses (GHGs) have concerned such plants. This column discusses the most recent legal developments concerning coal plants, including those on the regulatory and legislative fronts. Specifically, the author points to legal developments in the areas of air pollution litigation, regulatory activity, and congressional activity.