U.S. EPA air chief Gina McCarthy today defended the agency's controversial proposal that limits greenhouse gas emissions only from the nation's largest industrial sources, calling it an appropriate strategy for curbing heat-trapping emissions while Congress works to develop a climate bill.
The draft rule unveiled last week would require facilities that release more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases a year to demonstrate that they have used the best available pollution controls to curb those emissions (E&ENews PM, Sept. 30).
EPA proposes to "tailor" the Clean Air Act permitting programs to limit the number of facilities that would be required to obtain Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) and Title V operating permits under the programs. The Clean Air Act requires facilities to obtain those construction and operating permits when they emit more than 250 tons of harmful pollutants.
"The PSD rule was not about what we're exempting. It's about what we're capturing and the opportunities," McCarthy told EPA's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee. "I make no apologies for PSD being triggered. It is a good thing."
EPA says the rule will cover nearly 70 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions sources by regulating large emitters like power plants, refineries and cement production facilities.
Since its release last week, the rule has come under fire from industry groups and many clean air experts, who argue that EPA does not have the legal authority to raise the threshold for greenhouse gas emissions. Many observers fear that courts will overturn the rule, leading to strict regulatory requirements for small sources like hospitals and schools.
McCarthy defended the rule's legal foundations. "We made, we think, a very strong legal argument," she said. "We also made, I think, a very strong common-sense argument on why we would want to have PSD apply to the larger facilities, why it makes the most sense there, why it's not the most appropriate tool for smaller facilities."
Still, she echoed other top Obama administration officials' calls for Congress to pass a comprehensive climate bill.
The best thing, McCarthy said, would be for Congress to pass a comprehensive piece of legislation that allows a flexible cap-and-trade program. But in the meantime, she said, EPA and other stakeholders should continue to look at the best available control technologies for larger facilities and to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions do not continue to increase as facilities are built and modified.
"I can't imagine that it makes sense for EPA to stand still while debates are happening on rules for reducing greenhouse gases," she said.
McCarthy said EPA's rule would be concurrent with the agency's proposed nationwide standard to control greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles, expected to be finalized early next year.
"Its timing will align with the light-duty vehicle rule because -- as you all know -- if the light-duty vehicle rule is finalized in March, then greenhouse gases are a regulated pollutant under the interpretation, the current interpretation of the EPA, which is already out for comment and discussion, as well."
EPA also announced last week that it is reconsidering a George W. Bush administration memorandum detailing when the government should regulate carbon dioxide emissions from industrial facilities, known as the Johnson memo (Greeenwire, Oct. 1).