Supreme Court Greenhouse Gas Case has Implications for Local Adaptation, Resilience Efforts

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As the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments today on a case that could have implications for the Administration’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, cities continue to seek federal policies and programs that will support their local climate adaptation and resilience efforts.

The question in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA is whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may regulate greenhouse gases emitted from stationary sources, like power plants and factories. Last September, EPA announced its first steps under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution from new power plants. With the President’s most recent State of the Union address, where he reiterated his plan to “go it alone” on climate change, the proposed greenhouse gas rule is a cornerstone of his plan.

The case stems from another high-profile Supreme Court case—in 2007 the court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that EPA has the authority to regulate the emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles under the Clean Air Act. Subsequently, in 2009, EPA issued an “endangerment finding” that found that greenhouse gases endanger human health. Since then the agency has relied on the finding as a basis for its other greenhouse gas regulatory actions, in this case targeting power plants.

The Local Government Role

For the past several years the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee has focused on the topics of climate change, adaptation and resilience, looking at linkages among preparing for more extreme weather events, building resiliency, disaster mitigation, and the need to protect critical infrastructure, such as water and transportation systems.

In 2013, NLC updated its policy position on climate change, specifically urging “the federal government to develop a multi-pollutant strategy to reduce emissions from power plants, mobile sources and other major sources to provide significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

In 2014, supporting community resilience is one of NLC’s key federal policy issues. By raising awareness on the issue of climate change, the local impacts, and why and how local governments should think about resilience, NLC aims to spur additional action at both the federal and local levels.

The President’s Climate Action Plan, not only outlined administrative actions to reduce carbon pollution, but also focused on how to help communities become more resilient to the effects of climate change. The Climate Action Plan created the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, comprised of state and local officials to advise the President on ways the federal government can assist local efforts to address and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

NLC 1st Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City, Utah, is NLC’s designee on the President’s Task Force. NLC is working with Mayor Becker and task force members to help gather input from local officials on federal policies and programs to support local efforts on adaptation and resilience.

As our work with the President’s Task Force continues, we’re keeping a close eye on the Supreme Court’s decision and EPA’s rulemaking process — as a national policy it will have a tremendous impact on cities’ ability to meet their own greenhouse gas reduction goals, adapt to the effects of climate change and become more resilient.

As many cities set greenhouse gas reduction goals, which are typically one aspect of a city’s overall climate adaptation plan and resilience-building efforts, and have made progress benchmarking and measuring progress, they will benefit from a national policy that supports their efforts.

While cities continue to lead the way on climate adaptation, they are calling on the federal government to support local efforts by helping local governments to better understand the effects of climate change and extreme weather on their communities, incorporate these effects into their adaptation and resilience planning, and provide financial and technical assistance for local climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.