EPA Proposes Greenhouse Gas Permits for Power Plants, Factories
LOS ANGELES, California, September 30, 2009 (ENS) The Obama administration is not waiting for legislation governing greenhouse gas emissions to be approved by Congress, but is proceeding to regulate these gases under the Clean Air Act.

Large industrial facilities that emit at least 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year will have to obtain Clean Air Act construction and operating permits covering these emissions, under a proposal announced today by U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Speaking at the California Governor's Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles, Jackson these permits must demonstrate the use of best available control technologies and energy efficiency measures to minimize greenhouse gas emissions when facilities are constructed or significantly modified.

A similiar rule requires the use of best available control technologies when industrial facilities add generating capacity under the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act.

"By using the power and authority of the Clean Air Act, we can begin reducing emissions from the nation's largest greenhouse gas emitting facilities without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the vast majority of our economy," said Jackson.

Exxon Baytown refinery as viewed from the Houston Ship Channel (Photo by Louis Vest)

"This is a common sense rule that is carefully tailored to apply to only the largest sources - those from sectors responsible for nearly 70 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions sources," she said.

These large facilities would include power plants, refineries, and factories. Small businesses such as farms and restaurants, and many other types of small facilities, would not be included in these requirements.

"This rule allows us to do what the Clean Air Act does best," said Jackson, "reduce emissions for better health, drive technology innovation for a better economy, and protect the environment for a better future all without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the better part of our economy."

The proposed rule addresses a group of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) - the same six gases that are governed by the Kyoto Protocol.

The House of Representatives approved a bill to control greenhouse gases back in June, and today Senate Democrats introduced their version of a bill that will cap greenhouse gases and allow trading in emissions allowances.

But there is a long way to go before President Barack Obama signs a bill into law, and the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen is just 67 days away. There, governments are expected to finalize an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires at the end of 2012, and Obama has repeatedly said he is committed to steep greenhouse gas reductions.

If approved as proposed, this regulation would give the U.S. team some progress to point to at Copenhagen.

On September 15, the EPA and the Department of Transportation released a proposed joint rule that would require Corporate Average Fuel Economy, CAFE, standards for light trucks and passenger cars to meet 35.5 mpg by 2016. This standard would also limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

Jackson explained that if this proposed fuel economy rule is finalized and takes effect in the spring of 2010, Clean Air Act permits also would automatically be required for stationary sources emitting greenhouse gases.

With the proposed emissions thresholds, EPA estimates that 400 new sources and modifications to existing sources would be subject to review each year for greenhouse gas emissions.

In total, approximately 14,000 large sources would need to obtain operating permits that include greenhouse gas emissions. Most of these sources are already subject to clean air permitting requirements because they emit other pollutants.

Environmentalists welcomed Jackson's announcement.

"Given the Clean Air Act's plain language, there is no question that CO2 has long been subject to regulation under the Act. With this announcement, EPA appears to be taking a long overdue step to establish nationwide emissions standards for the largest sources of CO2 and other heat-trapping pollutants," said John Suttles, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

"The march of bureaucracy is finally catching up to the law and not a moment too soon as climate change impacts unfold even faster than scientists had predicted. Strong nationwide standards for the largest CO2 emitters are needed to help avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change," said Suttles. "Of course, the devil will be in the details which we have yet to see from EPA."

"Today's action focuses federal climate policy on the largest sources of heat-trapping pollution," said Mark MacLeod, director of special projects at Environmental Defense Fund. "EPA's leadership to limit emissions from the biggest sources is smart policy that can achieve big results for the country."

But the National Association of Manufacturers is opposed to the proposal.

NAM sent a letter to U.S. Senators last week urging them to support an amendment by Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from attempting to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Murkowski's amendment would prohibit the EPA from regulating emissions from stationary sources such as power plants and industrial facilities for one year.

"The EPA is trying to use the Clean Air Act as a blunt instrument," objected NAM Executive Vice President Jay Timmons, who says the proposal "will have profound consequences on American workers and deserves rigorous and transparent congressional debate."

Jackson said today that the EPA is requesting public comment on its previous interpretation of when certain pollutants, including CO2 and other greenhouse gases, would be covered under the permitting provisions of the Clean Air Act. She said, "A different interpretation could mean that large facilities would need to obtain permits prior to the finalization of a rule regulating greenhouse gas emissions."

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.