May 13, 2010
E.P.A. Unveils Rule to Regulate Greenhouse Gases
By SINDYA N. BHANOO
The Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a final rule on Thursday for regulating major emitters of greenhouse gases, like coal-fired power plants, under the Clean Air Act.
Starting in July 2011, new sources of at least 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year and any existing plants that increase emissions by 75,000 tons will have to seek permits, the agency said.
In the first two years, the E.P.A. expects to issue about 550 permits covering the coal-fired plants, refineries, cement manufacturers, solid waste landfills and other large polluters, said Gina McCarthy, the agency’s assistant administrator.
She said that the rule would apply to sites accounting for about 70 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. “We think this is smart rule-making and we think it’s good government,” she said.
Last fall the E.P.A. had indicated that the bar would be set at 25,000 tons a year, which would have imposed the permit requirement on smaller entities like family farms and large apartment buildings. “What we realized at the 25,000 level was that we were going to be actually reaching sources that we did not intend to reach,” Ms. McCarthy said.
The announcement came a day after a climate and energy bill was introduced in the Senate that would effectively shift regulatory power over greenhouse gases to Congress from the E.P.A.
Last year the the agency issued a finding that carbon dioxide and other climate-altering gases posed a threat to human health and welfare. Under the Clean Air Act, that gave it the authority to issue regulatory measures like the one announced on Thursday.
The Obama administration made clear last year that the finding was intended to goad Congress into superseding the agency and adopting emissions limits of its own. The E.P.A.’s regulatory move faces stiff opposition from industry groups.
Senator John F. Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, one of the two sponsors of the climate bill, seized on Thursday’s announcement to argue for the urgency of passing it. “Today we went from ‘wake-up call’ to ‘last call,’ ” he warned in a statement.
In a competing move, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, introduced a resolution in January that would strip the E.P.A. of its power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
She argued that allowing the agency to regulate emissions could devastate the American economy. “The E.P.A. has made very clear that while they might start at the 75,000, they plan to ratchet that down in ensuing years to catch even the smallest emitters,” a spokesman for Ms. Murkowski, Robert Dillon, said Thursday. “It doesn’t matter how fast you boil a lobster — it’s still cooked.”
But environmental groups praised the new rule as a smart move that conveys to Congress that the agency’s goal is to regulate large emitters rather than serve as a vengeful force that financially burdens small businesses.
“It’s clear evidence that the E.P.A. is saying, ‘We are no rogue agency,’ ” said Frank O’Donnell, president of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. “They are saying, ‘We’re only going to be looking at the very biggest polluters.’ ”
Next year the E.P.A. is to begin another rule-making process to phase in more permits and determine whether some smaller sources of emissions can permanently be excluded from the process.