Should U.S. EPA's Clean Air Act authority be preserved in Senate climate legislation? During today's OnPoint, William Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, makes the case for enabling EPA to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act in the Senate's climate bill. Snape explains why he believes the Clean Air Act is a successful tool for regulating greenhouse gas emissions. He also gives his take on EPA's reconsideration of the Johnson memo.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is William Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. Bill, thanks for coming on the show.
William Snape: Hello, Monica.
Monica Trauzzi: Bill, most people who we've spoken to on this show have said that the Clean Air Act is not a successful vehicle for regulating greenhouse gas emissions. You believe, however, that EPA's Clean Air Act authority should be preserved under a climate bill, and in particular the Kerry-Lieberman-Graham bill that's currently being fleshed out in the Senate. Why? Why should the Clean Air Act be included?
William Snape: Well, before we talk about the Clean Air Act as it relates to greenhouse pollutants, we need to look at its history, in that every air pollutant it has taken aim at has been reduced, historically, dramatically. Lead, particulate matter, nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide. So we don't think it's a huge leap to now take aim at the greatest air pollution set of gases we've seen, and the most injurious to the planet, greenhouse gases. And we think in fact that industry is complaining about the Clean Air Act precisely because it does work.
Monica Trauzzi: So what, what does the Clean Air, how would the Clean Air Act fit into the legislation? I mean, how would that interplay work? What would, what would happen?
William Snape: Well, our vision is that the Clean Air Act would be a base, a building block, from which the legislation would build upon. We view the legislation as a set of incentives, so that industry and private parties have an easier way of getting to the science-based Clean Air Act standards.
Keep in mind that the EPA has estimated that the Clean Air Act's benefits, economic benefits, are 42 times greater than any of its costs? So this is, again, with other pollutants, a system that has worked, both at the federal level and at the state level.
Monica Trauzzi: But it seems that Congress is stepping away from this idea of preserving EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act in the bill. Why are they doing that?
William Snape: Well, that's a very good question. I don't really, fully understand why. I do know that industry, over the course of the last several years, did a very good job in getting their message out, and getting the message out that they didn't want the Clean Air Act regulating them in this instance. The coal industry does not want the Clean Air Act applying to them. And that became part of the mainstream sentiment.
And I think unfortunately some environmental groups fell into that trap and engaged in a bit of groupthink, and so now that has become the given theory, but it's just not true. When you look at how the Act works, when you look at mobile sources, when you look at stationary sources, and you look at ambient air quality standards, the Clean Air Act is perfectly suited to greenhouse gases. In fact, I can't think of a better mechanism to deal with this threat.
Monica Trauzzi: So if legislation does not pass, do you think EPA and the Clean Air Act are equipped to regulate greenhouse gas emissions on their own?
William Snape: Absolutely. We hope Congress does act. We think there are things Congress could do with regard to incentives, with regard to making sure people who don't have a lot of money are made whole. There are definitely things Congress can do to build upon the Act. But yes, the Act by itself could work just fine.
Monica Trauzzi: And you don't think that there would be friction between what the legislation is trying to do and what EPA might be trying to do in their regulation?
William Snape: I don't think so. And the best historic example as to why that's the case is the Acid Rain Program from the early nineties. The acid rain program of the early nineties implemented a cap and trade program to reduce acid rain pollutants and built upon the Clean Air Act. It didn't replace the Clean Air Act. It added a new layer upon the Clean Air Act.
Monica Trauzzi: What's your take on the most recent news coming out of EPA that regulation of emissions from stationary sources will be delayed until 2011, relating to the Johnson memo?
William Snape: Well, if 2011 is actually the date, I think that's reasonable. I think EPA staff is working very hard right now, has a lot of hard work in front of it with regard to global warming. The problem with the new Johnson memo, or the Jackson memo, is that it seems to set into place delay well beyond 2011. So if January 2011 is actually the date, I think that's good. The concern is this will become 2016, 2017, 2020, just punting it well into the future.
Monica Trauzzi: And the reason for doing that?
William Snape: I think it's political pressure. I think Lisa Murkowski, some of the coal-state Democrats have actually, even though they don't have the votes in the Senate, then that close to 60, I think they've had their impact, at least on the White House, if not on EPA.
Monica Trauzzi: So you're not pushing a very popular view when it comes to the Clean Air Act's use for regulating greenhouse gas emissions. How does the Center for Biological Diversity fit into the overall debate that we're seeing in Washington right now on climate change?
William Snape: Well, I certainly have suffered some ostracism for our view on this, but we're beginning to see some changes. We're beginning to see the new Sierra Club president talk about the importance of the Clean Air Act. We're beginning to see many other groups in the context of the Murkowski battle talk about how the Clean Air Act has worked historically.
So I think we're starting to turn a corner a little bit. There's a lot more work to do. But we're hoping the Clean Air Act does become more accepted in this debate, and we've seen some progress.
Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club, NRDC, other major environmental groups, would support legislation that does not include the EPA having authority through the Clean Air Act. What's your relationship like with those organizations?
William Snape: Well, professionally and personally, it's very good. We talk with these people all the time, have dialogues, have debates, have disagreements. I think the big question that you allude to is what is the bottom line for some environmental groups, and I obviously cannot speak for them. Is the word climate enough in a bill to have them pass it? One of the adages I like to talk about is 60 obviously is obviously an important number. Sixty's the number you get to for Senate legislation on global warming.
Why is the number 350 not as equally important as the number 60? And 350, as you know, is the parts per million of carbon dioxide that leading scientists have told us need to be in the atmosphere for us to protect the earth as we know it. I'm not saying 350 is more important than 60, although I may personally believe that, but why is 350 and 60 not being talked about in the same breath? We seem to be a little bit too hyper-focused on 60 for the sake of 60.
Monica Trauzzi: Well, if we don't get 60, you don't get a bill, you don't get legislation passed through.
William Snape: We don't. But I would rather have no legislation than bad legislation, and I think the very good question is where is that line. Where is the line where legislation becomes so bad and so weak that it actually is a step backward to what EPA is already doing right now? And I don't claim to know that precise answer. It's a question that we struggle with every day, and it's why we talk with our colleagues about what that bottom line is. But I have not seen the national environmental groups here in DC yet articulate that bottom line.
Monica Trauzzi: So have we crossed that line that you speak of with the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman legislation that we've seen so far, the bits and pieces that we have seen?
William Snape: I don't know, because I actually haven't seen it. All I know of that bill is actually what you have reported at E&E. I was not in that closed door meeting with some of the environmental groups. I've seen some of the papers that are leaked. I understand that Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Graham are still working on the bill. So I'd be speculating to say whether we're over that line, but I think we're flirting with it, which is why we came out with some of the strong statements that we did, that we were very concerned not to throw the Clean Air Act under the bus.
Monica Trauzzi: Do you believe that the American public is ready for legislation or even regulation through the Clean Air Act of greenhouse gas emissions?
William Snape: I think absolutely. The Clean Air Act has worked for 40 years. The Clean Air Act has reduced all those air pollutants I talked about, lead, particulate matter. I think the issue is that the coal industry, the oil industry, the gas industry doesn't like the Clean Air Act, but I'm not sure that the oil and gas industry speak for the American people, and that's the debate we want to have. I think that's a good debate to have.
Monica Trauzzi: OK. An interesting aspect to the debate. Thank you for coming on the show.
William Snape: Thank you very much.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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