The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions has been reported as a blow to combat the onslaught of climate change. It may have been decades, but the days of swinging the regulatory stick began to fade in 2000, when the FDA released a study finding that eliminating trans fats from margarine and other foods could prevent about 7,000 deaths each year.
The report suggests that labels of trans fat content on packages could be important in alerting consumers to make healthier choices. In 2001, the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that trans fats were strongly associated with heart disease, increasing artery-clogging LDL cholesterol and reducing levels of “good” cholesterol. They concluded that there is no “safe” level of trans fat in foods.
Big food companies had already found ways to ditch hydrogenated oils by the time the FDA decided to issue labeling regulations. The federal government has never banned hydrogenated oils. The crucial change, lives saved from heart disease, was in the information available to consumers. Consumers regulated sales, not the government.
Also at a Senate hearing in 2000, SUV drivers were alarmed to learn that 271 people had been killed by SUV rollovers from something as mild as a flat tire. Congress allayed fears by passing a transparency law requiring automakers to clearly indicate to buyers the likelihood of an SUV overturning. Initially, 30 models had a reversal probability of 30% or more. Four years later, only one roly-poly model was on the market, and 24 models received high safety ratings. Guess who regulates the SUV market now?
Congress was right. Transparency laws, not regulation, allowed people to choose safer cars and only then did automakers respond with safer cars. The alternative to regulating the carbon footprint of buildings is the full transparency of Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) certification. Instead of suffering punitive measures, companies rejoice in meeting or exceeding the gold standard for green buildings.
While federal regulations are often tied to lawsuits that may ultimately go to the Supreme Court, states and municipalities, working with utilities and businesses, are leading the way with a plethora of different initiatives. An example is the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Generated in June 2022, the initiative provided $309.7 million to Northeastern states to reinvest in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct-to-bill assistance, and recovery programs. GHG reduction.
Finally, the Paris Climate Accord (2015) through to the Glasgow Climate Accord (2021), with 196 participating countries, were all reached by deliberative and transparent consensus with no ability or intention to self-regulate. each other.
When elected, President Biden said the country would use a big government approach to climate change, not just EPA regulations. With the President’s reunited team, which includes Boston’s Gina McCarthy and John Kerry, and the accomplishments to date, stepping away from the regulation baton frees up more hands for the daunting work ahead, spurred on by savvy citizens.
Thank you, Supreme Court, for advancing climate justice.
Dr. Rob Moir is a nationally recognized and award-winning conservationist. He is President and Executive Director of the Cambridge-based Ocean River Institute, a not-for-profit organization providing expertise, services, resources and information not available at a localized level to support the efforts of environmental organizations. Please visit www.oceanriver.org for more information.