Issue Date: January 10, 2011
EPA Tasks States To Cut Emissions
The Environmental Protection Agency is continuing to move on a path to regulate greenhouse gases, and last week it gave states the responsibility and authority to begin controlling carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the permit provisions of the Clean Air Act.
Under EPA’s plan, only the largest refineries and electric utilities will be affected for the next two years and only when a new facility is built that emits more than 100,000 tons of CO2 or equivalent greenhouse gases annually or when a modification to an existing facility will result in a 75,000-ton increase in annual emissions.
Other facilities in these sectors will remain unaffected until EPA draws up a new emissions control strategy for CO2 and the states implement and enforce that strategy. This process may take as long as two years (C&EN, Jan. 3, page 10).
Although legal under a Supreme Court ruling, EPA’s use of the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases is controversial and opposed by fossil-fuel-based industries and some members of Congress. The approach, however, enjoys support from renewable energy industries, environmental groups, and others concerned about climate change.
While EPA develops its long-term control strategy, state and local agencies are left to determine what new or expanding facilities must do in the months ahead to control CO2 emissions, says S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, an organization of air pollution regulators.
“I suppose an agency could require nothing to cut CO2,” he notes, “but chances are they will require energy efficiency measures since that is something the facility should be doing anyway.”
Becker estimates that currently about 100 to 200 new or expanding facilities have applied for construction permits that could trigger Clean Air Act reviews.
States are “simply unprepared” to run the program, says Scott Segal, an attorney for utilities and refineries. Segal, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, and others say the regulation will tie up agencies, kill jobs, and block new construction. Becker acknowledges that state budgets and personnel are stretched thin but says agencies are planning ahead and will do everything possible to quickly process new permit applications.
Eight states did not submit implementation plans for the regulation. Of those, seven (Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, and Wyoming) allowed EPA to take over their air pollution programs for greenhouse gases. Texas, however, is suing the agency and refusing to implement the regulation, calling it “an arrogant act by an overreaching EPA.”
In response, EPA moved to take over the Texas program but was blocked on Jan. 3, when a federal appeals court issued a temporary order staying agency action. A judicial decision on whether to extend the temporary stay is expected soon.
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