Air expert Becker says states prepared for GHG permitting process

Will the states be able to keep pace with U.S. EPA's pending emissions regulations? Is the Obama administration shifting its course on greenhouse gases? During today's OnPoint, William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, says states are prepared to handle the permitting process under EPA's greenhouse gas rule. He also explains why he believes EPA regulation will have minimal impact on utilities and construction permits.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is William Becker, Executive Director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Bill, thanks for coming on the show.

William Becker: It's good to be back.

Monica Trauzzi: Bill, with the midterms over, the focus is now shifting to EPA's pending regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and the states have a big role to play in this regulation. Are states prepared to handle greenhouse gas permitting come January?

William Becker: Absolutely. If you would listen to the hype and the hyperbole, one might think that this is going to be a construction ban in most areas of the country and that state and local permitting authorities would be issuing permits on ma and pa facilities like drycleaners and residences and farms and I've even heard someone talk about hotdog stands. And the fact of the matter is every state but one is poised to start issuing permits come January 2nd and they're going to do so in a very seamless manner.

Monica Trauzzi: So states have been sufficiently trained as to how they need to be going about this process?

William Becker: States will have training imminently. EPA is expected to come out with its guidance this week. They're expected to offer serious training not only to state and local permitting authorities but also to other stakeholders, including industries. EPA is expecting to have a number of webinars with the state and local agencies. EPA will be providing a number of other useful tools to help states prepare themselves, but the kind ...

Monica Trauzzi: And they can turn all of this around in a month?

William Becker: Yes, because the kinds of permitting decisions that are going to be required will be relatively simple ones like energy efficiency. For the first several months of this program we don't expect that a lot of permit applicants will be submitting applications to state and local permitting authorities and those that do will likely go forward with energy efficient improvements as part of the back determinations. The first six months of this program are going to be just for those facilities that are getting permits anyway and during that period of time they don't expect to have to issue that many significant back determinations other than energy efficiency improvements.

Monica Trauzzi: So what will the scene look like come January 2nd if you're looking for a permit?

William Becker: It will be the same scene as January 1st and January 5th. Those that are in the pipeline will likely be approved by January 2nd and the decks will be cleared. Those after January 2nd maybe we'll see a couple or three permit applications per state for perhaps 2/3 of the states. There won't be this huge rush for permit applications. It will be a steady but fairly slow process of receiving permit applications.

Monica Trauzzi: Many lawsuits are expected from both sides. What impact do you think those will have on the pace of regulation and permitting?

William Becker: I think that if an industry was smart they would try to work very cooperatively with a state and local permitting authorities because they've been asking for certainty in regulation and to the extent that this role is litigated and there are delays in determining the outcome, it throws industry in an uncertain situation. We expect that every state will be in a position to issue the permits. We're ready to issue them and if we're not, if this program is delayed or there is uncertainty, then it will create unnecessary and increased cost to the regulated industry and it will just throw chaos into the system.

Monica Trauzzi: So when industry says that they haven't been given enough time that this type of regulation will 'cause them to shut down plants. Your response is what?

William Becker: Nonsense. They've been given nine months to prepare for this. There was no one that's going to be shut down. I've worked with state and local permitting agencies and governor's offices and environmental commissioners for many, many years and there's no one, especially in this economy that wants to slow down the issuance of permits and wants to issue permits that are onerous for industry. The kinds of decisions that permitting authorities will make will be reasonable ones, backed, takes into consideration costs, energy implications and the achievability of meeting certain standards. No state will issue a permit or require of industry to comply with permit terms that are unachievable, that are not cost effective and have serious energy implications.

Monica Trauzzi: Lisa Heinzerling, the head of U.S. EPA's policy office and one of the primary crafters of EPA's climate policy or climate change program has announced that she's leaving EPA. Does this departure signal a shift in this administration's approach to the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions?

William Becker: No, I think Lisa always planned on returning to Georgetown law. She did a wonderful job there. I've talked with her at least through e-mail. She loved that job. She liked EPA a lot but it's expected that she and others will follow suit and return to previous place of employment.

This program is not going to be onerous for industry and notwithstanding the hype and notwithstanding the exaggeration, states are prepared, industries have told many of our states that they can do this. It's going to save them money in the long run because it's going to lead them to more efficient programs and more efficient operations and that's why it's so disappointing that there are rumors of congress stepping in and trying to tie EPA's hands when this program is going to be as seamless a transition into a new program as possible. Let me give you an example. I've been doing this for 30 years. I've been through vehicle inspection and maintenance and reformulated gas and acid rain and the Title Five Permit Program and many more programs under the Clean Air Act and almost without exception, every one of these programs had some initial bumps in the road at the outset and after a few months of implementation, we all looked back and thought, "What's all the fuss?"

This is going to be the same kind of program with one exception. EPA is providing more firepower, more guidance, more training, some resources, more interaction with the state and local agencies and the regulated community that almost any other regulation I can remember. And so it's going to make stakeholders, including the states, much better prepared than facing those other programs over the last 30 years.

Monica Trauzzi: This is not the only regulation that's coming online next year. There are other pollutant regulations happening also. Is this EPA being too aggressive? I mean can the states keep pace with all of these new regulations?

William Becker: This is not EPA being too aggressive. This is EPA carrying out the law. This is trying to protect public health. The emissions from industrial sources, the industrial boilers role or from utilities not only are huge, they're killing people. They're killing thousands of people each year and they're making sick many, many more.

Whether or not EPA or congress or the states like this, this is the law and they must make this work. As far as the states being able to do this, yes, we can. The states have been stepping up to the plate and meeting all of the other Clean Air requirements. Some of these are daunting challenges. We're doing this with limited resources. We're doing this sometimes with not as much guidance as we'd like. In this particular case EPA is trying to provide some resources.

We hope congress will appropriate and they are also trying to provide the training necessary to make this program work. So between the greenhouse gas permitting program and the implementation of the other Clean Air Act programs for criteria pollutants, they are very important. They save lives, they keep people healthy.

Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there. Thank you for coming on the show.

William Becker: Well thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Nice to see you.

William Becker: You too.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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