U.S. EPA has released a long-awaited guidance document that instructs state and local officials how to start issuing permits for power plants, refineries and other large stationary sources of greenhouse gases when EPA's new climate rules take effect next year.
State and local officials will need to absorb the information by Jan. 2, when they must begin requiring the best available control technology for greenhouse gases at new and modified facilities.
The 97-page document explains how strict regulators should be when requiring those emissions curbs.
Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said the state and local authorities will be ready. According to a report that was released by the organization last month, all states but Texas are on track to start issuing greenhouse gas permits early next year (Greenwire, Oct. 28).
"EPA's guidance will provide industry greater certainty, quicker permitting decisions and a smoother path toward greenhouse gas implementation," Becker said in a statement. "This should put to rest the exaggerated claims of some stakeholders that greenhouse gas permitting will have disastrous economic consequences."
EPA air chief Gina McCarthy and other Obama administration officials have recently sought to refute claims from industry groups, which have predicted that the greenhouse gas requirements will lead to an effective "construction moratorium" across much of the country.
Jeff Holmstead, an industry attorney who held McCarthy's job during the George W. Bush administration, said the agency has not given businesses and regulators enough time to put new rules in place.
"People will obviously need to review the guidance more carefully, but it really just looks like a long list of options," Holmstead said. "As a practical matter, no one is going to be able to get through EPA's new permitting process for a long time."
Efficiency 'particularly important'
The guidance document instructs regulators to focus first and foremost on energy efficiency, which would cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the use of carbon-intensive fuels.
"While energy efficiency can reduce emissions of all combustion-related emissions, it is a particularly important consideration for GHGs since the use of add-on controls to reduce GHG emissions is not as well-advanced as it is for most combustion-derived pollutants," the guidance document says.
Industry groups had worried that the agency would require facilities to use costly technology to trap carbon dioxide and store it underground, but EPA's guidance suggests that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology is not quite ready for prime time.
In one case study included in the guidance, carbon capture is ruled out as a possibility for a refinery. Even if the technology would allow CCS at the facility, officials would be justified in rejecting it as a control strategy if the hypothetical facility were far from the nearest storage site and there were no pipeline to move the emissions there, the appendix says.
"While CCS is a promising technology, EPA does not believe that at this time CCS will be a technically feasible [best available control technology, or BACT] option in certain cases," EPA writes. "A permitting authority may conclude that CCS is not applicable to a particular source, and consequently not technically feasible, even if the type of equipment needed to accomplish the compression, capture, and storage of GHGs are determined to be generally available from commercial vendors."
The guidance also directs businesses and officials to embrace the use of biomass. As the Obama administration has rolled out programs to assess and control greenhouse gas emissions, biomass users have pressed EPA to treat their fuel differently from oil, gas and coal.
Carbon dioxide is released when facilities burn plant material, but it is removed from the atmosphere once again when new plants are grown.
"Federal and state policies, along with a number of state and regional efforts, are currently under way to foster the expansion of renewable resources and promote biomass as a way of addressing climate change and enhancing forest management," the guidance document says. "Based on these considerations, permitting authorities might determine that, with respect to the biomass component of a facility's fuel stream, certain types of biomass by themselves are BACT for GHGs."
Click here to read the guidance document.