EPA moves to regulate greenhouse gases

The Environmental Protection Agency moved to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from utilities and large industrial facilities Wednesday, a controversial step that may put more pressure on Congress to act on its own.

The agency said the proposed rule would apply only to those entities that release more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year, limiting its application to utilities and large industrial facilities.

The Clean Air Act regulates industries that emit 250 tons of other types of pollutants, like sulfur dioxide. But the EPA changed the threshold because the 250-ton standard would capture thousands of small businesses, from bakeries to farms. Some business groups said the new standard could draw a court challenge.

“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. Let's hope it stands up in court, or anyone who wants to build anything in the U.S. will be facing more litigation and delay,” said Jeff Holmstead, a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani and EPA official under President George W. Bush.

Under the rule, facilities would have to use best available technologies to lower their greenhouse gas emissions to receive a permit to undertake a major expansion of an existing plant or to build a new one.

The announcement comes on the same day Senate Democrats released a climate bill that calls for a 20 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. It would require emitters to obtain permits to cover their greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentalists celebrated both actions.

"After years of inaction, the political winds have shifted and in favor of common sense measures that deliver less pollution and more clean energy," said Jeremy Symons, a senior vice president at the National Wildlife Federation.