U.S. EPA Regulates Greenhouse Gases for Large Industrial Sources
WASHINGTON, DC, May 14, 2010 (ENS) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a final rule to address greenhouse gas emissions from the largest industrial facilities, while shielding millions of small sources of greenhouse gases from Clean Air Act permitting requirements.
Announced Thursday, the rule will address facilities like coal-fired power plants and oil refineries that are responsible for 70 percent of the greenhouse gases from stationary sources that threaten American’s health and welfare.
The rule flows from a determination by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson last December that the emission of greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare. This endangerment finding paved the legal path for this so-called “tailoring” rule, which sets greenhouse gas emissions thresholds to define when permits under the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review program are required for new and existing facilities.
“After extensive study, debate and hundreds of thousands of public comments, EPA has set common-sense thresholds for greenhouse gases that will spark clean technology innovation and protect small businesses and farms,” said Administrator Jackson introducing the rule.
Power plant and transmission lines in Commerce City, Colorado (Photo by Shawn Parker)
“There is no denying our responsibility to protect the planet for our children and grandchildren,” she said. “It’s long past time we unleashed our American ingenuity and started building the efficient, prosperous clean energy economy of the future.”
Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who co-authored the American Power Act introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, said the EPA rule increases the urgency of Senate action on energy and climate legislation. The bill establishes a nationwide cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a market for trading emissions allowances.
“The Obama administration has again reminded Washington that if Congress won’t legislate, the EPA will regulate,” said Senator Kerry. “Those who have spent years stalling need to understand: killing a Senate bill is no longer success. And if Congress won’t legislate a solution, the EPA will regulate one, and it will come without the help to America’s business and consumers contained in the American Power Act.”
“That’s why businesses that have opposed every previous piece of legislation are supporting this one because the American Power Act will create millions of new jobs, move us towards energy independence, strengthen our national security, and give us cleaner air at the same time,” Kerry said. “We need to get it done this year.”
EPA’s phased-in approach will start in January 2011, when Clean Air Act permitting requirements for greenhouse gases will kick in for large facilities that are already obtaining Clean Air Act permits for other pollutants. Those facilities will be required to include greenhouse gases in their permit if they increase these emissions by at least 75,000 tons per year.
In July 2011, Clean Air Act permitting requirements will expand to cover all new facilities with greenhouse gas emissions of at least 100,000 tons per year and modifications at existing facilities that would increase GHG emissions by at least 75,000 tons per year.
These permits must demonstrate the use of best available control technologies to minimize greenhouse gas emission increases when facilities are constructed or significantly modified.
Senate Republicans oppose the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Commenting Thursday, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe put the Obama administration on notice that the rule will be challenged in court.
“EPA’s legal basis for the rule rings hollow,” Inhofe said. “The rule violates the Clean Air Act, and it won’t survive legal scrutiny. Even if the courts uphold the rule, EPA makes absolutely clear that commercial buildings, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and thousands of other small sources eventually will find themselves caught in the web of EPA’s global warming regime.”
“In short,” said Inhofe, “EPA is buying political time because it knows the political and practical consequences that will arise from its endangerment finding. The only way to stop EPA is for Congress to overturn that finding and provide certainty for employers so they can create jobs, expand their businesses, and get America on the path to economic recovery.”
While Inhofe and other Senate Republicans are opposed to EPA regulation of greenhouse gases, they are also opposed to the American Power Act introduced by Senator Kerry and co-author Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent.
Inhofe reacted to the Kerry-Lieberman bill by saying, “The sooner we reject global warming cap-and-trade legislation, and get to work on an all-of the-above energy policy, the sooner the American public will have access to affordable, abundant, American-made energy.”
The American Forest & Paper Association objects to the rule because it fails to differentiate power generated by burning biomass, such as logging slash and agricultural waste, from fossil-fuels.
AF&PA President and CEO Donna Harman said today, “We are deeply disappointed the EPA failed to reaffirm its own precedent and the internationally recognized carbon neutrality of biomass. This rule treats biomass fuels identically to fossil fuels, in effect undermining the Administration’s support for renewable energy policy in this country.”
The Woodland Biomass power plant near Sacramento, California burns 200,000 tpy of waste wood and agricultural waste and sells the power to PG&E. (Photo courtesy Woodlandwiki)
“The forest products industry is proud of its voluntary reductions in greenhouse gases and our increasing reliance on domestically grown, renewable and carbon neutral biomass to power our mills – all of which are important for a sustainable future,” said Harman.
“Biomass is the renewable fuel that forest products facilities use for two-thirds of their energy needs as an alternative to fossil fuels,” she said. “Emissions from the combustion of biomass historically have not been included in greenhouse gas reduction policies because biomass combustion does not increase carbon in the atmosphere when the overall biomass stock is renewed.”
“EPA’s own data show that the biomass carbon cycle in the U.S. removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits,” Harman pointed out. “This rule undermines this important precedent and jeopardizes public and private investment in biomass-based renewable energy, which is fundamental to existing and future green jobs in rural communities hit hard by the economic downturn.”
“This rule is another example of why the Clean Air Act is the wrong tool to regulate greenhouse gases,” she said.
But meanwhile, the EPA’s final rule governing greenhouse gas emissions will take effect in January and ramp up in July 2011.
Under the new emissions thresholds for greenhouse gases that begin in July 2011, EPA estimates approximately 900 additional permitting actions covering new sources and modifications to existing sources would be subject to review each year.
In addition, 550 sources will need to obtain operating permits for the first time because of their greenhouse gas emissions.
In April 2010, EPA set the first national greenhouse gas tailpipe standards for passenger cars and light trucks.
When greenhouse gas emissions limits for these vehicles go into effect in January 2011, EPA is also required to address greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act’s permitting programs, which it is doing in the final rule.
The final rule addresses a group of six greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).
EPA issued a proposed rule in October 2009 and held a 60-day public comment period. The agency received about 450,000 comments, which were reviewed and considered during the development of the final rule.