CLIMATE:

EPA proposes limiting GHG regs to large industrial sources

U.S. EPA proposed a rule today that exempts smaller sources of greenhouse gas emissions from rigid permitting requirements under the Clean Air Act.

The agency's 416-page draft rule would require facilities that release more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year to account for their emissions when obtaining clean air permits.

The draft proposes to "tailor" permitting programs to limit the number of facilities that would be required to obtain New Source Review and Title V operating permits under the programs. EPA said the threshold would cover power plants, refineries and other large industrial plants, exempting small farms, restaurants, schools and other small facilities.

"By using the power and authority of the Clean Air Act, we can begin reducing emissions from the nation's largest greenhouse gas emitting facilities without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the vast majority of our economy," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.

The Clean Air Act's current thresholds for regulating harmful pollutants like lead, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide are 100 or 250 tons per year. But while those thresholds are appropriate for those pollutants, EPA says, they are not feasible for greenhouse gases, which are emitted in much larger quantities. Without the tailoring rule, the lower thresholds would automatically kick in with the adoption of any EPA rules to regulate greenhouse gases.

"This is a common sense rule that is carefully tailored to apply to only the largest sources -- those from sectors responsible for nearly 70 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions sources," Jackson said. "This rule allows us to do what the Clean Air Act does best -- reduce emissions for better health, drive technology innovation for a better economy, and protect the environment for a better future -- all without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the better part of our economy."

About 14,000 large industrial sources would need to obtain operating permits for greenhouse gases, EPA estimated, and about 3,000 of those sources would be newly subject to Clean Air Act operating permit requirements.

Five years after the rule is finalized, EPA would conduct a study to assess the rule, the draft says. The agency would then conduct another rulemaking that would revise the thresholds as appropriate.

Former EPA general counsel Roger Martella called the rule "the final piece of the three-part puzzle that allows EPA to set the stage for regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act early next year."

"Combined with the endangerment determination and the greenhouse gas rule for cars, EPA will have the authority to implement a comprehensive regime for controlling greenhouse gases for nearly all sources under the existing Clean Air Act," Martella said.

David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club, called the rule "a very common-sense approach" to tackling global warming.

"We are pleased to see EPA come out with this rule," Bookbinder said. "It makes perfect sense to limit these provisions of the Clean Air Act to the very few major sources of CO2. Those are the same sources that are already regulated for numerous other pollutants, such as coal-fired power plants, steel mills and refineries."

But some industry groups and legal experts expressed concern that EPA lacks the legal authority to alter the threshold.

"The Clean Air Act stipulates unequivocally that the threshold to permit major sources is 250 tons for criteria pollutants," said Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association. "EPA lacks the legal authority to categorically exempt sources that exceed the Clean Air Act's major source threshold from permitting requirements, and this creates a troubling precedent for any agency actions in the future."

Click here to read the proposal.