Attorneys general urge EPA to set stronger emissions standards

December 18, 2013

Attorney General Beau Biden recently joined a coalition of 12 other state attorneys general in calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to act to substantially reduce air pollution by setting stronger emissions standards for fossil fuel power plants.

“Reducing pollution emitted in other states means cleaner air for Delawareans,” Biden said. “Most of Delaware’s air pollution comes from outside of our borders, and federal action is necessary, because other states have not taken the necessary steps to cut emissions.”

The attorneys general submitted written comments to the EPA as the agency develops new power plant greenhouse gas emissions regulations under the federal Clean Air Act. The comments detail the EPA’s legal obligation under the act, which mandates that the agency regulate emission sources that cause or significantly contribute to air pollution that endangers public health or welfare. Because fossil fuel power plants are the single largest source of climate change pollution in the U.S., emitting roughly 40 percent of the nation's total emissions, the EPA is obligated to regulate the climate change pollution emissions of these plants.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change are covered by the act's definition of air pollutants, and it further ruled that the EPA must determine whether these gases cause or contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. Subsequently, the EPA determined that greenhouse gases endanger the health and welfare of Americans.

Through its environmental regulations, the EPA establishes emissions guidelines based on the best system for reducing pollution from existing power plants, while giving states flexibility to determine how best to achieve those reductions. The comments submitted by the attorneys general stress the importance of the EPA maintaining this state flexibility. Many states have already responded to the threat of climate change by moving forward independently to implement a variety of approaches and programs to reduce climate change pollution from their electricity sectors, including include market-based cap-and-trade systems, planned retirements of coal-fired power plants, renewable energy standards, demand management and energy-efficiency programs.

The attorneys general argue that significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions must occur to prevent increases in the frequency, magnitude and scale of the adverse impacts of climate change pollution, which include:

• Extreme weather, including storms, floods, and droughts

• Loss of water supplies due to increased salinity and saltwater intrusion

• Loss of coastal land due to inundation, erosion, submergence and habitat loss from a rising sea levels

• Higher smog levels increasing the rate of asthma, pneumonia, and bronchitis

• More heat-related deaths and illnesses

• Threats to food production, agriculture and forest productivity

• Threats to energy, transportation and water resource infrastructure

• Disappearance of plant and animal species, and a rise of insect-borne illnesses, destructive fungi and pests.

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