CLIMATE:

EPA signals push for efficiency to control greenhouse gas emissions

U.S. EPA's air chief has requested input from agency advisers about how the government can promote energy efficiency and innovative technology as it defines the "best available control technology" for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy laid out her request in an April 9 letter to the agency's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee's climate change work group. The work group is advising EPA as the agency prepares to issue guidance about how it will define BACT for greenhouse gases from stationary sources.

As EPA proceeds with climate rules, large new stationary sources and modified facilities will need to install BACT to obtain federal air permits. State regulators will determine what constitutes BACT on a case-by-case basis as they review individual applications.

State and local air regulators and industries are anxiously awaiting EPA's guidance as they prepare for the agency to begin regulating some large industrial facilities in January 2011.

McCarthy said she and her staff are seeking advice on how the BACT process can be used to encourage energy efficiency and how a waiver for innovative control technologies can be used to promote the development of new pollution controls. Specifically, she requested the advisers to consider how an "innovative control technology" waiver can be used or changed to promote the development and applications of new pollution controls.

EPA and the states can use innovative technology waivers to temporarily exempt companies from BACT requirements in order to test new pollution control technologies.

McCarthy asked the work group to finalize their report by the next meeting of EPA's clean air advisory committee, which is scheduled for May 26-27.

Business groups are encouraged by EPA's focus on energy efficiency, said an industry official who spoke on background. "It looks like we could be moving towards areas where we can reach consensus, and energy efficiency being BACT makes sense," the official said.

A state regulator who is familiar with the EPA work group also welcomed the push for efficiency under forthcoming BACT guidance. "I think we would be remiss if we didn't consider energy efficiency right now for greenhouse gases," the state official said. Still, that person added, because BACT is case by case, states will need to consider a range of options for each permit.

Some industry representatives have expressed concern that EPA would issue guidance recommending fuel-switching or nascent technologies like carbon capture and sequestration, but McCarthy has sought recently to downplay those possibilities.

She recently told an audience at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies that the agency has not required switching fuels before, adding, "there's been good reason why we haven't done it in the past" (ClimateWire, April 14).

McCarthy also this month dismissed industry concerns that the agency plans to define BACT for all facilities as carbon capture and storage.

"We want to be clear as we're moving forward that the rules will not require carbon capture and storage at every facility," she said (E&ENews PM, April 6).

Click here to read the letter.