Clean Air Act

In the absence of new federal legislation on climate change, the Clean Air Act (CAA) has provided the primary basis for federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. The Sabin Center conducts legal research on how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can use this statute to achieve nationwide emission reductions consistent with our policies and international commitments. Our work focuses on using CAA sections 111 and 115 to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Section 115: International Air Pollution

For more than a decade the Sabin Center has explored the law and policy rationales for regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the International Air Pollution provision of Clean Air Act - Section 115. This section of the CAA authorizes EPA to require states to address emissions that contribute to air pollution endangering public health or welfare in other countries, if the other countries provide the U.S. with reciprocal protections. In so doing, it provides the executive branch of the U.S. government with the authority, procedures, and mechanisms to work with the states and private sector to take national climate action. Action under the provision could increase administrative efficiency and reduce burdens on regulated companies. If combined with new legislation with Congress it could help fill any emissions gap between the nation's emissions trajectory and the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 C. Our work on this project reflects an ongoing collaboration with key partners at the Emmett Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law and the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU School of Law, alongside other outstanding legal scholars, experienced lawyers from the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department, leading state regulators, and veterans of congressional climate battles. 

Lean more here.

This collaborative effort reflects the most current thinking on Section 115 and how it relates to the Paris Agreement , the U.S. Supreme Court, and U.S. politics. The contributors dive deep into the key implementation issues EPA, the states and industry would need to address.

Federal policymakers in a new presidential administration could use this book as a foundation for developing a national policy regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The book also provides detailed law and policy analyses for environmental lawyers and policy professionals, key to understanding the practice of climate law and policy in the U.S.


Section 111: Performance Standards for Stationary Sources

Amicus Brief on Carbon Capture and Storage Technologies, Michael Burger and Jessica Wentz (December 2016)

This amicus brief was written on behalf of eleven carbon capture and storage (“CCS”) experts in support of EPA’s emission standard for new coal-fired power plants. The standard is based on the CO2 emission reductions that can be achieved through the implementation of partial CCS, and one of the central issues in the case is whether CCS technologies are adequately demonstrated and available for installation at coal-fired power plants. The brief contains ample evidence corroborating EPA’s determination that these technologies are an adequately demonstrated system of emissions reduction for new coal-fired power plants.

See also: Press Release: Top Carbon Capture and Storage Scientists Ask Court to Uphold EPA’s Emission Standard for New Coal-Fired Power Plants (December 21, 2016)

Clean Power Plan Amicus Brief, Michael Burger and Justin Gundlach (April 2016)

More than 50 city and county governments from 28 states, together with The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), the National League of Cities (NLC), and the mayors of Dallas, Knoxville, and Orlando have signed an amicus brief explaining why the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is critical to the safety and economic security of local communities across the United States. The brief was authored by the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

See also: Amicus Motion on Behalf of Cities in Support of EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Michael Burger  (December 2015) and related Press Release (April 2016); Press Release: More Than 50 Cities Press Court to Uphold Clean Power Plan, Citing Climate Change Risks (April 2016).

Federal Implementation Plans for Controlling Carbon Emissions from Existing Power Plants: A Primer Exploring the Issues, Daniel Selmi (May 2015)

This paper answers basic questions about EPA’s authority to issue federal implementation plans (FIPs) for the Clean Power Plan regulations that EPA is issuing under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. The essay is organized into three parts: (1) the circumstances under which EPA will promulgate a FIP under Section 111; (2) the content and effect of such a FIP; and (3) the enforcement of a FIP. The discussion is written in an accessible, plain language style that will be understandable to both lawyers and non-lawyers.

States Should Think Twice Before Refusing Any Response to EPA’s Clean Power Rules, Daniel Selmi (March 2015)

This essay highlights the reasons that states should think carefully before “saying no” and refusing to comply with EPA’s clean power rules.  The essay discusses five consequences of not submitting a 111(d):  (1) EPA must impose FIPs that will probably focus on power plants, and states will cede regulatory control to the federal government; (2)  Ratepayers likely will fare worse under a FIP than under a state-crafted plan; (3) Temporizing now and deciding to prepare a compliance plan later will involve delays in extracting the state from the FIP; (4) Late compliers may lose important opportunities for efficient compliance and informational benefits that accrue from participating  at the outset; and (5) “saying no” to avoid a predicted political backlash is unnecessary.  Finally, the essay argues that, because the need to respond to climate change will not disappear, states are better off beginning now to plan their transition to a power system with reduced carbon emissions.

See also: An Analysis of Senator McConnell’s Letter Urging States Not to Comply with EPA’s Clean Power Plan by Daniel Selmi, April 2015

Sabin Center Comments on Proposed Clean Power Plan, Jessica Wentz (December 2014)

The Sabin Center submitted comments on EPA’s proposed rule to regulate CO2 emissions from existing power plants under Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act (the “Clean Power Plan”). The comments focus on the role of energy efficiency as a compliance mechanism that utilities and states can used to achieve the required emissions reductions under the proposed rule, highlighting some key uncertainties about the inclusion of energy efficiency in state plans and providing recommendations on how EPA can develop a flexible framework that will allow states to experiment with a variety of different energy efficiency measures when implementing the final rule.

All Clean Air Act publications are available here

Archived Clean Air Act Projects

This page includes links to papers and related research published from 2010 through 2013 exploring how EPA could use the Clean Air Act to regulate different greenhouse gas emission sources.