Climate Change – At Last U.S. Proposes Federal Regulations!

       On June 2nd of this year, the U.S. for the first time took meaningful action at the federal level to address climate change. This was in the form of the Clean Power Plan rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If passed, this landmark rule will regulate carbon emissions from existing facilities of the electric utility industry across the entire nation. Considering power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., this rule would be tremendously impactful, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by a projected 30% below 2005 levels by the year 2030! What’s more, if U.S. policy begins to take climate change seriously, there is no doubt other nations will follow suit. As we are dangerously near the so-called “tipping point,” beyond which climate change will be out of our control, this policy could very well be the 11th hour saving grace we’ve been waiting for. That is, if it’s not already too late! While I could opine endlessly about climate change and my thoughts on the present state of affairs, I will reserve that for a later blog. Here, I will stick to the topic of the new EPA proposal and its likelihood of becoming a formal rule and surviving litigation by stakeholders. This blog was inspired by an insightful lecture I recently attended by esteemed law professors Jody Freeman and Richard Lazarus of the Harvard Law School.

Above is a picture I recently took at the People’s Climate March in New York City. 
An estimated 400,000 people attended the march!!
       The Clean Power Plan was proposed through executive action under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, after congress repeatedly proved incapable of uniting to act on climate change. The basis for the proposed rule is the overwhelming scientific evidence that has accumulated regarding the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. Namely, the increase in global average temperatures which will lead to sea level rise and coastal damage, increased heat stress to the young and elderly, and more severe weather events, as well as related air pollution. The Climate Action Plan, according to experts Freeman and Lazarus, is a beautifully crafted piece of legislation. This is not only because standards were uniquely tailored to each state, but because the rule is a rate-based emissions design, which allows each state tremendous flexibility in determining how goals will be met (either through improvements in energy efficiency or reduced energy consumption). Whether the rule is legal under EPA authority, given that it would remold the energy economy, is another story. And this is what will certainly be challenged in the courtroom by industry. Freeman and Lazarus note that EPA has succeeded in the past in promulgating similar rules that have altered other industrial sectors, but never on such a scale. The policy undoubtedly has strong legal merit, but whether it will survive the brutal attack by industry remains to be seen. Freeman and Lazarus believe it could go either way, and think it will come down to good lawyering.

       At present, the rule is undergoing a period of open public comment which has just been extended to December 1st, 2014. This is mostly to get feedback from interested stakeholders prior to finalizing the rule, in order to spare as much subsequent litigation as possible. As part of the public comment period, four public hearings during the week of July 28th took place (Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Washington). I am not sure exactly what happens following the close of public comment, but presumably there will be another window of time allocated to the rewriting of the rule before the rule is officially attacked and taken to court. I will have to revisit my environmental law textbooks and get back to you on this. Until then, feel free to read more on the proposed rule and to provide your comments to the EPA Federal Register by visiting:

                                                                                                        -Shahir Masri, M.S.

If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to join my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!


Ebola Confirmed in Texas!

Since my last blog, Ebola has not only worsened in West Africa, but the virus has finally hit the U.S. This is the first time Ebola has been diagnosed on U.S. soil, a scary reality to say the least! You may remember two Ebola patients being admitted to Atlanta’s Emory hospital in early August. These cases were different, however, in that they were diagnosed in Africa and consequently isolated prior to entering the United States. In the present case, the infected person arrived to Texas from Liberia on September 20th, but was not admitted to a hospital and isolated from the public for entire week! This is after the patient had already visited Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on September 26th complaining of Ebola-like symptoms. The medical staff was informed of the patient’s recent arrival from West Africa and still sent the patient home, albeit with pain killers and antibiotics. A major failure of the screening system perhaps? 

The most pressing question right now is, do we have cause to panic? I don’t personally believe so, and it appears many experts don’t either. Though I was admittedly alarmed to here this news yesterday, the reality is that this virus remains difficult to contract from person to person. The explosiveness of the West African epidemic is a result of variables other than the simple virulence and communicability of the disease, but rather to issues such as preparedness, infrastructural capacity, and availability of resources, as noted in my earlier blogs. These factors do not pose the same obstacles in the U.S.
About a month ago, I predicted future Ebola case and fatality rates through the weeks of September based on the virus’s rate of spread throughout the preceding five months. Now a month down the road it is time to reflect on those predictions and see where things stand. Frighteningly, the predictions were an underestimate and not an overestimate of the true chaos continuing to unfold. Under predicting by about 14%, the true death toll by Sept. 18th (the most recent data) stands at 2,833. Rising even more sharply, the number of cases by this date stands at 5,883. Since disease statistics are usually delayed, and because WHO has been releasing Ebola data less frequently in recent weeks, there is no way to compare my Oct. 1st predictions at the moment. Although they are certain to represent even greater underestimates if the rate of Ebola’s spread has continued uninterrupted. I will keep you up to date as new information is released by WHO and CDC. In the meantime, let’s cross our fingers that diligence and precaution prevent any further spread of Ebola to or throughout the United States and that the situation in West Africa gets under control! 

If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to join my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!
                                                                                    -Shahir Masri, MS