EPA Issues Plan for GHG Regulation

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set forth plan to set standards for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the heaviest polluters. In a landmark announcement, in line with their relatively new jurisdiction over GHG regulations within the Clean Air Act, the EPA announced that they will issue more specific standards in the upcoming year. Fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries will be the ones most directly affected by the new rules, and considering that these sources account for 40 percent of the nation’s GHG pollution, they aim to have a high impact.

“We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce GHG pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans, and contributes to climate change,” EPA Chief Administrator Lisa Jackson said. “These standards will help American companies attract private investment to the clean energy upgrades that make our companies more competitive and create good jobs here at home.”

The initial standards will be proposed by June 2011 for power plants and December 2011 for refineries, with final standards set by May 2012 and November 2012, respectively. This gives enough time for public comment, engagement with states and businesses as well as other stakeholders in the early part of the year.

These actions were in response to the 12 states that sued the EPA two years ago over their refusal to regulate GHG emissions, even after the Supreme Court verified that those actions were with their authority. At the time the EPA left the decision to congress, but the new EPA under the Obama Administration has tried to take a more active approach. This major decision is sure to ruffle some feathers in the fossil fuel industry.

In addition, the EPA announced they will take authority to issue GHG permits under the Clean Air Act in seven states (AZ, AR, FL, ID, KS, OR, WY) until their state agencies revise their permitting regulations to cover these emissions. They are also taking over Texas’ Clean Air Act permitting program and will issue permits to facilities in the Lone Star State. The EPA is making sure no state is able to issue GHG permits with standards below the levels outlined in their rule.

Starting in January 2011, all major emitting facilities, including refineries, power plants and cement factories, will need to begin implementing efficiency measures to reduce emissions and new facilities will need to comply with stricter national standards to reduce their GHG emissions. This is a major move by an administration that made many promises but took little action on the climate crisis. It looks like things may begin to turn around, but we’ll have to wait and see the industrial reaction to these announcements, and whether the final standards issued will have enough teeth to make a significant impact on the heaviest polluters.

Josh Gelfand is a staff writer living in San Francisco, though he was born and raised on the freeways of Los Angeles and spent many years in San Diego. He is a living model of what can be achieved when Californians bridge the north-south chasm and come together as one. He received his MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and a BA in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin.

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