EPA Seeks to Narrow Scope of Greenhouse Gas Regulations

| Wed Sep. 30, 2009 6:35 PM EDT

In case there wasn't already enough news on the greenhouse gas regulation front today, the Environmental Protection Agency also released new proposed rules that will move the agency another step closer to regulating emissions.

Under the proposed rule, only sources emitting more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year would be regulated under the Clean Air Act. That would cover big emitters like coal-fired power plants, large manufacturers, and refineries. The so-called "tailoring rule" would exempt smaller sources like buildings, small farms, hospitals and schools.

The rule is significant, as it brings the EPA another step closer to regulating emissions. Following up on the 2007 Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases could be regulated under the Clean Air Act, the EPA determined in April that greenhouse gas emissions do indeed pose a threat to public health and welfare. The agency is expected to finalize that decision any day now, which will trigger regulation under the act.

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But the law was intended to govern pollutants like lead, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide, setting limits at 100 to 250 tons per year. A threshold that low for carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would be difficult to employ. Thus, the need for this tailoring rule, which will pave the way for EPA regulation of major emitters.

 "By using the power and authority of the Clean Air Act, we can begin reducing emissions from the nation's largest greenhouse gas emitting facilities without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the vast majority of our economy," said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement.

Of course, regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act still has plenty of critics. Jackson has said repeatedly that regulating under the act is not ideal, and that the administration would prefer that Congress pass a new law governing greenhouse gases specifically. Most in the energy and environmental sector would agree.

Jeff Holmstead, the EPA air administrator under George W. Bush who now heads up environmental policy at a major DC lobbying shop, called the proposed rule a "valiant effort by EPA to fit a square peg into a round hole" in an email to reporters.

"The Clean Air Act specifically says that any facility that emits more than 250 tons per year of a regulated pollutant is a 'major source' that is covered by various regulatory requirements," said Holmstead. "Normally, it takes an act of Congress to change the words of a statute enacted by Congress, and many of us are very curious to see EPA's legal justification for today's proposal."

There will be a 60 day comment period on the new rule. What's important to note is that the new rule does not actually regulate greenhouse gases. It's more of a guideline for how regulations might progress—and a reminder to Congress that the EPA is getting down to the business of regulating while they continue to dawdle on new legislation.

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