Focal Areas

Climate Policy Under the Clean Air Act


Through detailed legal and economic analysis coupled with high-level stakeholder engagement, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions identifies cost-effective options for using the Clean Air Act to protect public health and encourage deployment of innovative technologies. Since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, Nicholas Institute researchers have focused on identifying efficient, environmentally-effective options for regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the act.

In 2009, the Nicholas Institute began holding stakeholder workshops to respond to outstanding legal questions presented by the broad statutory language of the act and its use to regulate a sector responsible for 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. Out of these workshops came roughly two-dozen analyses of policy options and their risks and rewards under the law. One of the first—Avoiding The Glorious Mess: A Sensible Approach to Climate Change and the Clean Air Act—suggested that use of section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act could allow the EPA to design a flexible, cost-effective emissions reduction program.

After the June 2014 release of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, the Nicholas Institute paid attention to the challenge of limiting emissions from existing fossil fuel-fired power plants while hedging risks in a power market undergoing a sea of change due to rapidly shifting fuel economies. Even in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s stay of the Clean Power Plan, the Nicholas Institute continues to play a critical role supporting states and stakeholders as they navigate the resulting uncertainty, including analysis of how the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) program might be used to regulate greenhouse gases if stakeholders litigate to seek to force the EPA to use that regulatory program. 

Work by the Nicholas Institute focuses on key choices states will face when implementing federal climate policy; implications of other changes in the electricity sector for compliance with federal climate policy; and opportunities and challenges for future application of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.