In Chapter 8, Guy Peters discusses program evaluation and policy change. Peters says program evaluation is difficult for a number of reasons: goals may not be measurable, the time frame for meaningful goals may be too short, measures may not include all outcomes, targets may be difficult to identify, measures may look more at procedure than performance, outcomes may be valued differently by different constituents, or evaluations may be rigged.
One way to be more transparent in what you are measuring and why is to state the goals and evaluation measures as part of creating the program. An example of this is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposed on June 2. In this plan the EPA sets the goal of lowering carbon emissions from power plants 30% by 2030. Lowering carbon emissions from power plants is necessary because power plants are the largest contributor in the nation to carbon dioxide emissions that drive climate change. Lowering emissions will not only mitigate the worst effects of global warming which cost over $100 billion in 2012 alone, but the reduction in particulate matter and ozone also carries up to $93 billion in public health benefits through avoiding up to 6,600 premature deaths, 150,000 child asthma attacks, and 3,300 heart attacks.
Under the plan, each state is given a goal for emission reductions by 2030, with interim goals to meet by 2020. However, states have broad flexibility in how they meet these goals. Four building blocks are laid out: making fossil fuel plants more efficient, using more low-emitting power sources such as natural gas or nuclear, using more renewable energies such as solar and wind, or using electricity more efficiently. States can also implement these building blocks in a variety of ways such as investing in energy efficiency programs, upgrading aging infrastructure, passing new regulations, setting policy to encourage more renewables, or working with other states to create a regional strategy.
The goals of the EPA Clean Power Plan are modest, common-sense, and highly achievable. Although this plan is the most our government has ever proposed to address climate change, it’s the least we can possibly do, and only the beginning of what needs to be done to address this urgent issue. Yet incredibly this plan is being challenged in court by 12 states, including Ohio, which have sued to stop it. Although the Supreme Court has ruled three times, including most recently in June, that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, these states argue that the EPA does not have this authority because it is already using the Clean Air Act to regulate other emissions from power plants such as mercury.
To make this argument, which on the face of it sounds ridiculous, the states are relying on an anomaly in the law. During the lawmaking process, the House and Senate each pass their own version of the bill, which is then reconciled in a joint committee before being sent to the president for a signature. Unfortunately, part of the Clean Air Act pertaining to what the EPA can regulate as pollution did not get reconciled before signing, so it contains language from both the House, which is more restrictive, and the Senate, which grants broad authority. When such failures of reconciliation have been challenged in court, the courts have generally given discretion for interpretation to the agency doing the regulating, as the Supreme Court did in ruling that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon pollution.
Moreover, the House version may not say what the states think. Although one section of the Clean Air Act states the EPA can regulate specific emissions such as mercury, the section of the act that the states are suing under says the EPA can regulate any other source of pollution, to cover sources the first section might have missed. The House language prevents the EPA from regulating states twice under this section, but that’s not what the EPA is doing. It is regulating mercury under the first section of the Clean Air Act, and carbon under the second section.
Most observers expect the state’s challenge to the EPA Clean Power Plan to be thrown out of court. So why are states pursuing this? Two words: politics and money. The lawsuit is led by West Virginia and joined mostly by states where coal and oil are big business. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people and money is speech, these industries have the green light to pour more money than ever into elections, installing politicians who fight every possible regulation on fossil fuels tooth and nail. It is a waste of taxpayer funds, and it burns precious time we need to address climate change, which threatens to tip the environment into something totally different than the one human civilization and most current species evolved in.
Scientists tell us that our window to mitigate climate change is closing fast – as in the next 10 to 15 years – and if the environment does reach a tipping point, it may not be something we can adapt to. Humans are dependent on a healthy environment, and we cannot choose our economy at the environment’s expense. On the contrary, moving toward a healthy environment would strengthen the economy with investments in clean energy, innovation, and public health.
Climate change is happening now, but we also have the tools to address it. The EPA Clean Power Plan is a good first step. We cannot allow the iron triangle of the fossil fuel industry, the politicians it puts into office, and the courts that allow them to do this, to put an entire civilization at risk. People must make their voices heard, whether through votes or protests. There is now a true social movement on climate, and it won’t stop until this problem is solved.