ARLINGTON, Va. -- U.S. EPA's air chief said today the agency would roll out greenhouse gas emission standards for automobiles and the "tailoring" rule for the heat-trapping gases next month after considering a raft of public comments.
"We are furiously ensuring that we get the light-duty vehicle out and ready in March," Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy told an agency advisory panel at a meeting here. "There is no hesitation about that. It will be happening."
EPA and the Transportation Department are expected to finalize a joint rulemaking that would boost automobile and light-truck efficiency standards for model years 2012 to 2016, and would impose the first-ever federal tailpipe standards for greenhouse gases. The agencies have hustled to complete their work by March 31, 2010, in order to meet the statutory requirement that corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards be completed 18 months before the next model year begins in October.
The agency is also poised to issue the tailoring rule in tandem with the auto rule, McCarthy said. That controversial rule aims to limit New Source Review and operating permitting requirements to only the largest industrial sources of greenhouse gases. The agency has sought to coordinate those rules because the auto standard would trigger those permitting requirements for stationary sources.
McCarthy said the final tailoring rule will take into account a host of recommendations and concerns presented in some 420,000 comments submitted to the agency.
Critics -- including industry associations, GOP lawmakers and conservative think tanks -- have expressed concerns about EPA's legal authority to limit the permitting requirements to the largest sources when the Clean Air Act's thresholds would require the agency to regulate smaller emitters.
State and local air regulators have also asked EPA to delay permitting requirements for stationary sources to ensure that conflicts between the tailoring rule and state programs do not overwhelm permitting authorities.
Although the tailoring rule seeks to raise emission thresholds for facilities that need permits from 100 or 250 tons of pollution per year to 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, nearly 40 states have 100- or 250-ton thresholds on the books, and regulators are seeking additional time to modify state laws and regulations (Greenwire, Jan. 11).
EPA's final rule will aim to address everyone's concerns, McCarthy said.
"We clearly see that there are legitimate concerns raised as to the proposal," she said. "We are working those through and honestly believe that we have options available to use administratively that will address those issues in a way that makes sense to everyone."
She added, "We know the anxiety level is very high, so we know it's our responsibility to get that done quickly and to be sending the right signals that we have heard, and we can move forward with this rule in tandem with the light-duty vehicle rule."
Also in March, EPA is planning to issue its reconsideration of the "Johnson memo," McCarthy said. That document, issued by former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, details when the government must regulate carbon dioxide emissions from new and modified stationary sources, including coal-fired power plants.
The Obama EPA last October proposed to uphold the George W. Bush administration's policy, which would require facilities to obtain Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) permits only for pollutants that are controlled under the Clean Air Act (Greenwire, Oct. 1, 2009).
EPA is planning to press forward with this suite of climate rules despite inaction on Capitol Hill on broad climate and energy legislation, the administration's favored path.
"In the end, whether or not we will have a comprehensive bill in place this year, you will see that EPA can do its job in a way that is both responsible and that is meeting the test of common sense, so we're not overstraining resources or making commitments that can't be done, or doing anything that would strain the economy or labor," McCarthy said.
Teaching the public about climate
As the agency plows forward with new greenhouse gas regulations, McCarthy said it must ramp up its efforts to educate the public about the implications of climate change.
"I am more than a little distressed that the American public is more confused about climate science than when we began our discussions at EPA about what is the science of climate," she said.
EPA's "endangerment" finding -- a document issued last December determining that greenhouse gases threaten human health and welfare -- is important and deserves to be carefully looked at, McCarthy said.
But that document fails to put the threats into plain English that the public can understand, she added. "And I think there is a great deal of fear and anxiety on part of the public about what climate change means in terms of actions we're taking, but there's less understanding about what climate change means in terms of what it means for their lives and the lives of their children," she said.
EPA must do a better job of communicating those implications, she said.
"If we're going to get the actions we need," she said, "we need to have a groundswell of better understanding about what climate science means so that we can have the foundation necessary to take the actions we need to take."