US EPA to take over greenhouse gas permitting in several states

23 December 2010 22:10  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday announced it will take authority in January in eight states that are unable or unwilling to implement the agency’s new greenhouse gases restrictions on new plant construction and modifications.

Industry officials were quick to condemn the move as unprecedented coercion and a usurpation of state authority.

The agency said that it would assume authority in seven states for issuing new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions permits for new construction of utilities, refineries and major factories or for modification to existing facilities in those categories.

Those seven states - Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon and Wyoming - do not have laws that allow them to regulate greenhouse gases. The EPA said it would provide GHG permits in those states until their legislatures can modify the respective state laws to allow regulation of greenhouse gases.

In an eighth state, Texas, the EPA said it would void part of the state’s environmental permitting programme and take over permitting for greenhouse gases there as well.

Texas had earlier filed suit against the EPA, challenging its authority to regulate greenhouse gases. That suit was still pending.

In the remaining 42 states that are to begin regulating greenhouse gases under the new EPA mandate, their local statutes provide adequate authority, said the EPA, to begin implementing the GHG emissions rules in two weeks.

However, some have questioned the technical ability of many of those states to handle the flow of GHG emissions permitting that may be required.

A company seeking to build a new production facility or electric utility, or make major modifications to existing facilities, must obtain a permit to proceed under the Clean Air Act (CAA).

The permit certifies that the new project or modification meets Clean Air Act environmental and emissions rules and does not increase pollution. Without such a permit, the project cannot go forward.

Earlier this year, the EPA issued rules ordering changes in the states’ environmental permitting processes to cover GHG and established authority for the agency to take over permitting in those states whose local laws did not specifically provide for regulation of greenhouse gases.

The agency said at that time that its assumption of state permitting authority would be necessary in order to prevent a halt to such authorisations in states and a resulting hiatus in new plant construction or modifications.

Industry officials have warned that the EPA’s imminent regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from so-called stationary sources - power plants and factories - could in any event bring new production and facility upgrades to a standstill because of uncertainty among company owners, banks and investors on whether state regulation of GHG emissions can work.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) said on Thursday that EPA’s announced plan to take over greenhouse gas permitting authority in selected states was “unprecedented and coercive”.

API director of regulatory and scientific affairs Howard Feldman charged that “In unprecedented fashion, EPA is now coercing some states to relinquish their authority and is directly usurping state regulatory authority in Texas”.

Feldman noted that the ability of state regulators to take on the new permitting process remained uncertain and that the EPA’s ability to take on that work flow in many of the states also was unknown. He also charged that the EPA was taking presumptive regulatory action when its authority to do so was under challenge in pending lawsuits.

“EPA is cramming too much in too short of a time,” Feldman said. “The administration’s focus should be on job creation and economic recovery, not unnecessary and burdensome regulations that will threaten jobs and create a drag on business investments, expansion and hiring.”

He said the API was urging the agency to reconsider its “costly and unworkable greenhouse gas regulations”, adding that the Clean Air Act was not intended as a means to regulate greenhouse gas emissions by factories, refineries and utilities.

Earlier on Thursday the EPA announced separate plans to regulate GHG emissions from existing utilities and refineries under a different Clean Air Act regulatory programme.

Republicans poised to take majority control in the US House of Representatives next month and their colleagues in the expanded Republican minority in the Senate have already announced plans to defund or revoke the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases.

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