AG Rosenblum Asks EPA to Consider National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Greenhouse Gasses

July 28, 2022
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Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum today led a coalition of 8 state and territorial Attorneys General in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan encouraging the EPA to consider establishing National Ambient Air Quality Standards for greenhouse gasses to address the climate crisis. The letter follows in the wake of West Virginia v. EPA, the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. If the EPA were to adopt NAAQS for greenhouse gases, all 50 states would be required to develop a comprehensive climate action plan specifically designed for their state.

The Attorneys General emphasized in their letter why it makes good sense for the EPA to consider NAAQS. The letter says, in part: “The NAAQS provisions of the Clean Air Act are very clear: If a pollutant is a threat to public health and welfare, and if that pollutant comes from ‘numerous or diverse’ sources (like greenhouse gases), EPA is supposed to identify a concentration of that pollutant in the ‘ambient air’ that must not be exceeded. States are then responsible for ensuring that they do not exceed that level. EPA has used NAAQS successfully to fight pollutants like ozone, lead and particulate matter.”

“With the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting the EPA’s ability to use its preferred method of addressing greenhouse gases from power plants, it is clear that we need a comprehensive climate change strategy. We urge EPA Administrator Regan to consider utilizing this existing tool—which has been successfully used to address pollutants like lead, ozone, and particulate matter—as a way for us to move forward with meaningful action,” said Attorney General Rosenblum.

In the letter, the Attorneys General further write:

“Limiting the level of greenhouse gases in the air is central to preventing global temperature rise and concomitant climate disaster. In the Paris Agreement, which the United States recently rejoined, the nations of the world committed to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.”

“The Court’s invocation of the ‘major questions doctrine’ would not apply to NAAQS . . . Congress intended NAAQS to have ‘vast economic and political significance’ . . . ‘The protection of public health—as required by the national ambient air quality standards and as mandated by provision for elimination of emissions of supremely hazardous pollution agents—will require major action throughout the Nation.’”

“Finally, we are aware that greenhouse gases can cross state and national boundaries. That is the reason the Clean Air Act contains a ‘good neighbor’ provision addressing interstate pollution.”

Developing NAAQS for greenhouse gases makes sense because the purpose of the international effort on climate change is to prevent the concentration of greenhouse gases in the air from reaching the tipping-point level. In West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court did not say that EPA cannot regulate greenhouse gases. Rather, it made a narrow ruling that EPA cannot use one provision—section 111(d)—to regulate existing power plants in a particular way.

“Given the magnitude of the climate threat, NAAQS are worth serious consideration by our top environmental and climate experts,” said Attorney General Rosenblum.

Oregon has been involved in litigation over the EPA’s right to regulate greenhouse gases from power plans since 2015. Together with a coalition of states, Oregon successfully challenged the Trump Administration’s attempts to rollback numerous environmental protections and continues to be actively engaged in climate protection efforts.

In addition to the Oregon Attorney General, the letter was signed and submitted to the EPA by the Attorneys General of Delaware, Guam, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, and New Mexico.

Read the letter here.