On August 2 the Trump administration proposed to roll back fuel economy standards that had been a centerpiece of the Obama administration plan to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The joint EPA/NHTSA proposal would freeze the standards at 2020 levels for six years rather than substantially increasing them as required under existing regulations. The unusual rationale offered by EPA and NHTSA is that because more fuel efficient cars cost more, fewer people will buy them, causing more deaths in auto accidents as older cars with fewer safety features are driven longer. This rationale has been rejected by many experts who maintain that the administration manipulated the cost-benefit analysis used to support its proposal.
The EPA/NHTSA proposal also would bar California from adopting more stringent auto emission controls than other states, a move that gives lie to the administration’s claim that it wants to give states more authority over environmental policy. The 1970 Clean Air Act expressly authorizes California to apply stricter standards and it did so for decades until 2009 when the Obama administration essentially brought the national standards up to the level sought by California. California and other states that have adopted the California standards are challenging the legality of EPA preemption and they appear to have a very strong legal case. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler reportedly was skeptical about the agency preempting California regulations, but Trump DOT officials prevailed by arguing that if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed the Supreme Court likely will rule for the administration, a further sign of the politicization of the Court.
Last week a federal jury in North Carolina awarded neighbors of an industrial hog farm $25 million in compensatory damages because of the nuisance created by the giant anerobic ponds that store hog waste. Rather than suing the farmers raising the hogs, the plaintiffs sued Smithfield Foods, the corporation that controls the operation. This is the second multi-million dollar verdict against the company in nuisance litigation brought by hundreds of North Carolina residents. Last week the North Carolina General Assembly adopted the North Carolin Farm Act, new legislation that will foreclose such nuisance lawsuits in the future. The legislation was adopted over the veto of Governor Roy Cooper.
The Los Angeles Department of Power and Water is considering a proposal to invest $3 billion in a pumped storage project for Hoover Dam, which is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The plan would use some of the huge amount of solar and wind power generated during the day on the California electric grid to pump water back above the dam into Lake Mead where it could be used to generate additional hydro power when it is most needed. Right now the Hoover Dam only operates at about 20 percent of capacity due to drought conditions.
On August 5 the New York Times devoted its entire Sunday magazine to an article “Losing Earth: The decade we almost stopped climate change.” The 66-page article by Nathaniel Rich is well worth reading for its detailed review of efforts during the 1980s to develop an international consensus that GHG emissions should be frozen and then reduced. It maintains that even oil companies and President George H.W. Bush could have supported such a proposal, though it singles out John Sununu, Bush’s White House Chief of Staff, for blocking EPA Administrator William Reilly’s efforts to support such measures. The article includes terrific photos illustrating the present consequences of climate change throughout the world.