As climate change rightly has dominated recent discussions of environmental policy, it’s been easy to forget how much progress has been made in the past fifty years. I was reminded of the extent of that progress by the story in Bloomberg (subscription required) that the last refinery in the entire world to produce leaded gasoline has ceased operations. There’s no doubt that that’s something to be celebrated.
I recently did a post asking whether exposure to particulate matter affects cognitive abilities. Well, there’s no doubt that exposure to lead does so. The harm wreaked by emissions from leaded gasoline could be described as incalculable. However, that would be a rhetorical statement. I’m sure that we could provide at least a rough estimate of the impacts. If we were to do so, the answer would be terrifying. The plus side is that the benefit of removing lead from gasoline has therefore also been incalculable.
I’ll close with one final note. For environmental lawyers, the decision in Ethyl Corp. v. EPA is a foundational case. At its core, Ethyl Corp. provides the basis for environmental regulation in the face of uncertainty. And it’s important to remember that, while the decision seems fairly obvious today, it wasn’t so obvious at the time. The case was decided en banc, and there were multiple dissents.
Imagine the additional harm that would have occurred had Ethyl Corp. been decided the other way. And now imagine the additional harm that will result from climate change if we fail to regulate because of “uncertainty” about the cause or scope of climate change.