US issues first GHG emissions rule; industry attacks

02 April 2010 00:49  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The US on Thursday issued its first regulation to force reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as energy leaders and conservatives warned that the rule would have broad negative effects on US industry and consumers.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) jointly issued what they called “historic new federal rules that set the first-ever national greenhouse gas emissions standards”.

Under authority of the Clean Air Act (CAA), the regulation would require US automakers to reduce the average greenhouse gas emissions of their vehicles by 5% annually beginning in 2012 to reach a fuel efficiency level of 34 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2016.

It was expected that automakers will achieve the emissions reductions largely by producing down-sized, lighter vehicles with smaller engines producing proportionately fewer greenhouse gases.

“This is a significant step towards cleaner air and energy efficiency, and an important example of how our economic and environmental priorities go hand-in-hand,” said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

“By working together with industry and capitalising on our capacity for innovation, we’ve developed a clean cars programme that is a win for automakers and drivers, a win for innovators and entrepreneurs and a win for our planet,” she said.

The agency initiated its plans to regulate greenhouse gases with a formal “endangerment finding” in December last year in which EPA held that carbon dioxide and other gases thought to cause global warming are subject to federal limits under the Clean Air Act and a related 2007 US Supreme Court ruling.

US automakers generally support the new EPA emissions and fuel efficiency standard - which essentially duplicates existing DOT requirements but adds another statutory authority and environmental objective - because they want a single federal standard to replace multiple similar legislative requirements at the state level.

The action on Thursday by the EPA was the first step in a long-anticipated effort by the administration of President Barack Obama to begin broad regulation of US emissions of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act in lieu of stalled climate action by Congress.

US chemical makers, other manufacturers, agricultural interests and a broad range of businesses said they were worried that while the EPA’s first emissions action targeted passenger vehicles and light trucks - known as mobile sources - the agency soon would move to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources, such as factories, power plants and commercial buildings.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said that the EPA rule on automotive emissions “sets the nation on the disastrous course of Clean Air Act regulation of stationary source greenhouse gas emissions”.

The result, said the institute, “could be a paralysing slowdown in business expansion and job creation at a time when millions of Americans are still struggling to find work”.

“The rule is not just about vehicle efficiency,” API said. “It’s about EPA overreaching to create an opportunity for regulating greenhouse gas emissions from virtually every firm and business in America, no matter how unwieldy, intrusive and burdensome such regulation might be.”

The EPA has said it would limit its regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sites to major facilities such as power plants and refineries - its so-called tailoring rule - but other legal authorities say that the agency will be required by law to apply limits to almost any industrial or commercial operation larger than a family home.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative think tank, said the EPA rulemaking would force automakers to produce less safe but more costly vehicles that consumers would shun.

The CEI also warned that the anticipated next step in regulating GHG emissions by plants and factories would sharply impede energy development and choke off construction activity across multiple commercial sectors because of uncertainty over required EPA and state-level emissions permitting processes under the Clean Air Act.

“As a result of this misguided decision,” said William Yeatman, a CEI energy analyst, “Obama’s EPA will have the power to regulate anything larger than a mansion - your small business, your office complex, your apartment building.”

Senator James Inhofe (Republican-Oklahoma), a leading Senate global warming sceptic, also criticised the EPA’s rulemaking, charging that it would only mean job losses and higher costs for consumers.

He also said that the EPA’s Jackson admitted in Senate testimony that the agency’s emissions regulations would have no impact on the global climate.

Inhofe is among a bipartisan group of Senate and House members who have sponsored or supported at least seven bills pending in Congress to block EPA regulation of greenhouse gases.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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