CLIMATE:

Groups push EPA to regulate CO2 in N.M. power plant case

Environmentalists said today that they will use U.S. EPA's reconsideration of air permits for a New Mexico coal-fired power project to push the Obama administration to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.

The new round of public comments on the Desert Rock Energy Project offers a "rare opportunity ... for regular Americans to make a big difference" in persuading EPA to change course on CO2, said Nick Persampieri, an Earthjustice attorney for groups opposing the project.

The opportunity for a new round of public comments followed EPA's withdrawal this month of the CO2 portion of its final permit for the 1,500-megawatt project on the Navajo Nation, saying its decision not to regulate the greenhouse gas under the Bush administration needed additional justification.

EPA issued an "Addendum to the Statement of Basis" for Desert Rock on Jan. 22, reiterating its position that CO2 should not be regulated under the Clean Air Act. But EPA will not make a final decision before the Feb. 23 end of the comment period.

But forcing EPA to reverse its CO2 policy and rewrite Desert Rock's permits could be exceedingly difficult for the new administration because former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson issued guidance to regulators on Dec. 18 excluding CO2 from a list of pollutants subject to Clean Air Act provisions regulating power plant emissions.

Jeff Holmstead, EPA's former air division director and now an industry attorney, said last week that EPA was careful to follow the letter of the law in its CO2 determination and the new addendum serves to reinforce the agency's earlier position.

In addition to the new round of comments on Desert Rock's CO2 emissions, EPA's Environmental Appeals Board will review permit terms for Desert Rock's other air emissions. The board agreed to review the non-CO2 portion of the permits after several environmental groups filed legal challenges to EPA's decision.

Click here to review EPA's addendum document pertaining to Desert Rock CO2 regulation.