EPA Will Phase-in Clean Air Act Permitting for Greenhouse Gases

WASHINGTON, DC, March 31, 2010 (ENS) – In the absence of national legislation governing greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. EPA is moving to regulate them under the Clean Air Act.

EPA is phasing in the Clean Air Act permitting requirements for greenhouse gases emitted by stationary sources such as power plants and factories.

Under a final decision issued by the EPA on Monday no stationary sources will be required to get Clean Air Act permits that cover greenhouse gases before January 2011.

“This is a common sense plan for phasing in the protections of the Clean Air Act. It gives large facilities the time they need to innovate, governments the time to prepare to cut greenhouse gases and it ensures that we don’t push this problem off to our children and grandchildren,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

“With a clear process in place, it’s now time for American innovators and entrepreneurs to go to work and lead us into the clean energy economy of the future,” she said.

Jackson said the EPA has pledged to take sensible steps to address the billions of tons of greenhouse gas pollution that threaten Americans’ health and welfare, and is providing time for large industrial facilities and state governments to put in place cost-effective, innovative technologies to control and reduce carbon pollution.

The decision determines that Clean Air Act construction and operating permit requirements for the largest emitting facilities will begin when the first national rule controlling greenhouse gases takes effect.

Coal-fired Tanners Creek power plant in Indiana emits greenhouse gases (Photo courtesy AEP)

If finalized as proposed, the first national rule limits greenhouse gas emissions for cars and light trucks. The agency expects to issue final vehicle greenhouse gas standards on April 1.

This rule would trigger the requirements in January 2011, the earliest model year 2012 vehicles meeting the new standards can be sold in the United States.

EPA has committed to focusing its greenhouse gas permitting requirements on the largest sources. The agency will make a decision later this spring on the amount of greenhouse gases facilities can emit before having to include limits for these emissions in their permits.

Jackson said Monday’s action is the final step in EPA’s reconsideration of the December 18, 2008 memorandum entitled “EPA’s Interpretation of Regulations that Determine Pollutants Covered by Federal Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) Permit Program.”

The final rule clarifies when greenhouse gases and other pollutants are covered under Clean Air Act permitting programs.

Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies representing state and local air agencies across the nation, is pleased with the EPA’s plan to phase in greenhouse gas permitting, calling it “extraordinarily helpful to every state in this country.”

“Providing nine additional months for states to revise their clean air laws and regulations will enable these agencies to closely align their programs with the federal permitting rules, thereby assuring a smooth and rational transition to the daunting but important challenges of regulating greenhouse gases from industrial facilities,” said Becker. “We are extremely heartened that EPA has not only heard our concerns, but has heeded our advice.”

But some members of Congress believe that legislation, not regulation, is the only correct way to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, Monday requested a meeting with Administrator Jackson to clarify the impacts that EPA regulation of greenhouse gases will have on the nation’s economy.

“It remains incumbent upon EPA to provide Congress with sufficient information on how the agency plans to interpret and implement the Clean Air Act,” Murkowski said.

In January, Murkowski introduced a disapproval resolution to stop the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, saying such regulation will result in “damaging new regulations that endanger America’s economy.”

Murkowski’s resolution, co-sponsored by 35 Republicans and three Democrats, follows the EPA’s recent finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare, a finding that paves the way for the agency to regulate greenhouse gases.

“The Clean Air Act was written by Congress to regulate criteria pollutants, not greenhouse gases, and its implementation remains subject to oversight and guidance from elected representatives,” Murkowski said. “We should continue our work to pass meaningful energy and climate legislation, but in the meantime, we cannot turn a blind eye to the EPA’s efforts to impose back-door climate regulations with no input from Congress.”

Last June, the House of Representatives passed clean energy legislation establishing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a market mechanism to trade emissions permits. But companion legislation has been stalled in the Senate, where it remains under negotiation.

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