Publication Date

Spring 2017



Document Type


Subject Area(s)



Climate policy in the United States is near an inflection point. With Congress uninterested in new legislation, focus at the federal level for most of the last decade has been on the Clean Air Act, but whether regulation under that old statute can successfully address carbon emissions remains unclear. Under President Obama, the EPA has focused on two core programs-vehicle emissions standards and the Clean Power Plan, aimed at fossil fuel power plants. But with the latter of these programs under legal challenge, and both falling short of the flexible, economy-wide policy many believe is necessay, academic and policy attention is turning to an additional Clean Air Act provision. Section 115 of the Clean Air Act is aimed at international air pollution, and its advocates suggest it could be a vehicle to achieve deeper emissions reductions, perhaps including nationwide cap and trade or a carbon tax. This paper critically examines § 115 and its supporters' claims, concluding that it holds great promise but also comes with legal risks. A court considering the inevitable legal challenge to § 115 regulation might deem it a legal "mousehole" that Congress could not have intended to cany the weight of the climate policy "elephant," or it might rule that § 115 is limited to "conventional" pollutants rather than extending to carbon. There are strong counterarguments to both of these, but each remains a real legal risk and has likely been underappreciated by supporters of§ 115. Even if§ 115 survives such facial challenges, other legal challenges (if successful) could prevent it from being able to match its advocates' ambitions. Most of these narrower challenges appear relatively weak, however. Section 115's promise makes it worth pursuing but with caution.


©2017. Published in Administrative Law Review, Volume 69, Number 2, Spring 2017, by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association or the copyright holder.