A few weeks ago, a group of 13 prominent environmental law professors and attorneys released a 91-page report outlining this new approach, which would allow EPA to use existing laws to quickly and efficiently regulate all pollution sources, in all states — not just power plants and cars. The experts concluded, “It could provide one of the most effective and efficient means to address climate change pollution in the United States.”
Here’s how it works: A rarely used provision of the Clean Air Act — Section 115 — gives EPA the authority to mandate that every U.S. state cut its emissions by whatever amount the agency determines is necessary to protect public health and welfare if two things happen.
First, EPA must receive a report or studies from an “international agency” showing that U.S. air pollution is anticipated to endanger public health or welfare in a foreign country. The many reports put out by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change over the past few decades meet this requirement. The U.S. is one of the top greenhouse gas emitters in the world, and its pollution undoubtedly endangers public health and welfare in many other countries.
Second, EPA must determine that the foreign country harmed by U.S. pollution has given the U.S. “essentially the same rights with respect to the prevention … of air pollution occurring in that country.” In other words, there needs to be reciprocity. That’s where the newly signed Paris agreement becomes important. The Paris agreement satisfies this reciprocity requirement because there are now nearly 190 countries planning to reduce their emissions, at least in part, to protect one another’s health and welfare.