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EPA Stalls on Carbon Dioxide Rules

Greenhouse Gas: Agency puts off proposal to cut power plant emissions

by Jeff Johnson
September 26, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 39

EPA has backtracked from its scheduled release of proposed rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired electric utilities. Instead, EPA said in a statement it will issue the proposal “soon.”

Last December, EPA announced that it would propose regulations to cap carbon dioxide emissions from large power plants in July 2011 and from refineries in December 2011 and that it would issue final regulations for utilities in May 2012 and for refineries in November 2012. These two industries, EPA said, produce nearly 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution.

Although EPA underscored that the regulations would be phased in over two years and address only large, new or modified power plants and refineries, the agency faced a firestorm of opposition from utility and refinery owners, trade associations, and their allies in Congress. These opponents say CO2 regulations would be costly and impossible to implement.

In June, EPA announced it could not meet the originally set July date for utilities and delayed it for two months. On Sept. 19, however, the agency announced it could not meet the pushed-back date for utilities; EPA officials would not comment on the status of the refinery proposal.

EPA’s plan to limit CO2 emissions was driven by litigation from states and environmental groups arguing that EPA has authority and responsibility to regulate greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Air Act. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the groups, and with support from the Obama Administration, EPA moved ahead and began the regulatory process under the Clean Air Act. By doing so, the agency avoided the need for action from a Congress that opposes greenhouse gas legislation.

Environmental groups were disappointed with the delay, they said, particularly in light of President Barack Obama’s recent decision not to toughen ground-level ozone standards (C&EN, Sept. 12, page 7). In a Sept. 20 letter to the President, 19 environmental groups, many of which were parties to the original litigation, urged EPA to issue final regulations next year.



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