US EPA alerts states to prepare CO2 rules enforcement

10 November 2010 21:16  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The US on Wednesday alerted state governments on how to begin enforcement of new federal rules to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that go into effect on 2 January, a plan that businesses warn could halt industrial expansion.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it was providing guidance and advice to state governments that would bear responsibility for enforcing the agency’s first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions by electric utilities, refineries, chemical plants and other major industrial facilities.

EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy told a press conference that the guidance and industry-specific advisories being issued by the agency would help ensure that “permitting for greenhouse gases runs smoothly”.

Under the EPA’s “endangerment” ruling of December 2009, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases were deemed “pollutants” under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and therefore subject to the agency’s regulation and obligatory reductions.

In May last year, the agency issued a related “tailoring rule” which limited EPA’s initial greenhouse gas restrictions to only major industrial facilities and electric power plants.

Beginning 2 January, any major facility that wants to make major improvements, and any company that wants to build a new production plant must first demonstrate to state regulators that the improvement or new facility will include the best available control technology (BACT) to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

But US chemical producers, refiners, cement manufacturers and other industries have warned that the agency’s controversial rules are cost-prohibitive and would establish a de facto moratorium on major improvements to production facilities and the construction of new manufacturing or electric utility capacity.

Industries have expressed worries that because there are no commercially available technologies to capture and store CO2 and other greenhouse gases, the permitting process will collapse and investors will be reluctant to put money into projects that might not get state approval under the EPA’s new emissions restrictions.

McCarthy dismissed those complaints, telling a press conference that “The states are fully prepared to begin issuing permits, and this will not be an opportunity for any construction moratorium”.

“There will be no stoppage,” McCarthy said.

In response to a question, McCarthy conceded that EPA does not know and cannot forecast how much greenhouse gases reductions might result from the agency’s new requirements.

“This is not about capping or overall reductions,” she said.  “This is just ensuring that facilities look at the most cost-effective means of reducing pollution.  We have no overall projection of how much emissions will be reduced.”

Noting that EPA’s endangerment finding of late 2009 and its May 2010 tailoring rule have been challenged by various lawsuits, McCarthy said that the agency is confident that both decisions were “on a sound legal basis and will hold up in a court of law”.

She also said that she was disappointed that the state of Texas has refused to comply with EPA’s new permitting requirements for greenhouse gases.

“We have tools in the Clean Air Act and we have authority to issue these permits,” she said, “and we will not allow Texas to fall behind.”

EPA's plans to regulate greenhouse gases emissions also face a challenge from Senator Jay Rockefeller (Democrat-West Virginia), who has proposed legislation to suspend the agency's GHG rules for two years, allowing Congress time to pass a more measured approach to climate change concerns.

In a statement on Wednesday, Rockefeller said the EPA's new guidance and advisories to states did not change his opinion that the agency's greenhouse gases rules must be suspended.

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