Lloyd K. Garrison Lecture: Guest Speaker Ann Carlson

By, Matthew Shock

On April 19, 2017, in the Gerber Glass Moot Court Room at Pace Law School, Ann Carlson, the Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law at the UCLA School of Law, delivered a speech on Pollution Hot Spots and the Clean Air Act. Professor Carlson, is the faculty co-director of Emmett Climate Change and is an Environmental Leader in climate change. She started UCLA’s Environmental Law Clinic and has written several dozen articles on climate change, energy policy, and federalism. She is the publisher of the top 5 law review articles of the past year. She is co-author of a policy brief on reducing greenhouse gases. Further, she is a blogger of Environmental Law and the recipient of several teaching awards.

Professor Carlson first talks of her high praise for the Clean Air Act. Professor Carlson set out 3 aims to talk about. Professor Carlson begins her discussion by first celebrating the Clean Air Act, then critiquing it, and then offer some constructive suggestions on it. She asserts that the way we measure pollutants, through national ambient air quality standards, alters our perceptions on what we believe. Professor Carlson concludes her introduction by asserting that our ability to perceive indoor air pollution is a vast problem, which we think we are properly regulating, but in fact we are largely overthinking.

Professor Carlson starts her praise of the Clean Air Act by pointing to the successful reduction of air pollutants (such as: lead, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone). She asserts that declines in emissions has been achieved while there have been large increases in vehicle miles traveled and energy consumption. As a result, there are more power plants, and sizable increases in populations. She claims this has led to extraordinary economic and health gains at an affordable environmental cost. Further, she asserts the Clear Air Act has also produced enormous health benefits citing reduction on environmental health impacts, death, and sicknesses.

In her argument, Professor Carlson talks of the horrid toxins involved in the health effects of air pollution exposure. She claims there have been increases in hospital visits for everyone and that the elderly and children are exposed to and suffer higher risks as a result. Professor Carlson then argues the various problems of air pollutants, as well as the effects in the districts in Los Angeles. For instance, Professor Carlson points to the South Coast Air Basin Ozone Trend, where Los Angeles was way out of compliance, and may never meet the expectations required for the 2015 standard of air quality. She also highlights the air quality effects that help determine impacts to regions such as New York, New Jersey, and White Plains. She then discusses the problem of the over-inclusiveness and under-inclusiveness of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”). She claims that NAAQS give a false sense of security, and further, that there is no pollution problem when breathing toxins may be far worse than anticipated.

She then addresses the issue of our lack of monitoring and regulating, claiming the Act says nothing about near-source pollutants by people who live near a heavily trafficked roadway. Additionally, Professor Carlson advocates for the reduction of greenhouse gases and automobile emissions simultaneously.

Finally, one audience member questioned a land use policy. The question asked, what the possibility of state environmental land use acts to dictate, would result in. Professor Carlson, was not convinced it would do enough, but did think it was important. She questioned why buffers (do not build within 200 feet of a highway) could not be used on individual property as a possible and perfectly plausible policy. However, she recognized that there is a problem with scarce property and strong forces, and further thinks it would be within a city’s zoning policy.

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