CLIMATE:

EPA to revise GHG permitting limits, will focus on larger sources

U.S. EPA has revised its plans for regulating greenhouse gases to focus on larger emission sources than originally proposed, Administrator Lisa Jackson said today.

The revisions will affect a "tailoring" rule that initially proposed requiring emission permits for facilities that emit more than 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent a year -- raising the thresholds from 100 or 250 tons that trigger permitting requirements for so-called conventional pollutants.

The final threshold will be larger still, Jackson told reporters after a hearing with Senate appropriators.

"If you're smaller than 75,000 tons, for the next two years, you would not need a permit," Jackson said. After 2012, she added, EPA would consider moving the threshold to around 50,000 tons per year. She added that EPA has not determined what the final limits will be.

Large pollution sources that emit more than 50,000 tons annually account for 70 percent of U.S. stationary source emissions, Jackson told the Senate panel.

State and local air regulators applauded the revision.

"What Lisa Jackson is proposing is almost identical to what state and local agencies asked her to do," said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA). "She has been totally responsive to not only acknowledging the concerns of state and local agencies but adopted our recommendations in meeting this difficult challenge."

Becker's group had asked EPA to raise the threshold and delay permitting requirements to give regulators time to prepare for the new rules. Arriving at a range between 50,000 and 75,000 tons per year and holding off permitting requirements until January 2011 appears to be totally consistent with NACAA's recommendations, Becker said.

But critics of EPA's climate rules for stationary sources argue the proposal to raise the permitting threshold faces a risk of being overturned in court, no matter what level EPA proposes.

"We're not sure about the legality of EPA changing these thresholds," said Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute.

Also, Feldman said, a host of states have lower thresholds on the books that could remain until state laws and regulations are modified, meaning smaller sources of greenhouse gases in those states could still be subject to permitting requirements.

Nearly 40 states operate under EPA-approved "state implementation plans" that establish a 100- or 250-ton threshold for the permitting requirements, according to NACAA.

"We think both of those issues are still very large and looming," Feldman said.

In response to questions from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jackson outlined how many large industrial sources would be subject to regulation under EPA's climate rules.

EPA will begin to phase in permitting requirements and regulating large stationary sources of greenhouse gases in early 2011, when only facilities that must already apply for Clean Air Act permits for other pollutants will need to address those emissions. Fewer than 400 facilities would be subject to those requirements, Jackson said.

In the second half of 2011, as many as 1,700 additional permits would need to be reviewed for greenhouse gas emissions, she said. In 2013, depending on the threshold that EPA finalizes, about 3,000 additional sources could need permits.

Jackson first announced EPA's plans to "substantially" raise the thresholds to exempt more facilities from permitting requirements last week in response to the concerns of moderate Senate Democrats.

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