EPA completes climate rule as Capitol Hill action remains a question mark

Kerry on Thursday sought to use the new EPA rule to bolster political support for the bill, which faces major hurdles.

“Today we went from ‘wake-up call’ to ‘last call’ on the urgency of Senate action on comprehensive energy and climate legislation. The Obama Administration has again reminded Washington that if Congress won’t legislate, the EPA will regulate,” he said in a prepared statement.

But Frank O’Donnell of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch said EPA’s plan is too measured to scare lawmakers into action. “If it is designed to nudge Congress, it almost seems to me that it has the opposite effect, because it should reassure people in Congress that EPA is not a rogue agency,” he said.

EPA’s plan – called the “tailoring rule” – spells out how the agency intends to introduce greenhouse gas permitting requirements beginning in January.

It limits regulation of the emissions under the Clean Air Act to large polluters, exempting small- and medium-sized facilities such as schools, restaurants and other small businesses.

EPA needs to “tailor” its greenhouse gas regulations, because permitting for other types of pollutants under the Clean Air Act begins at levels of 100 and 250 tons per year. Applying those levels to greenhouse gases would capture businesses of all sizes.

EPA said its approach targets big industrial plants that are responsible for 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources.

For the first six months, only facilities that already face permitting requirements for other pollutants and increase their greenhouse gas emissions by 75,000 tons per year would have to include the greenhouse emissions in their permits.

From mid-2011 to mid-2013, Clean Air Act permitting programs would fold-in new facilities with greenhouse gas emissions of at least 100,000 tons annually and existing plants making modifications that increase emissions by 75,000 tons.

Under the permitting programs, polluters must show they are using the best available technologies to minimize emissions, EPA said.

EPA is also mulling other steps, including exempting sources with greenhouse gas emissions under 50,000 tons annually. In any case, the agency said it will not require permits for smaller sources until at least mid-2016.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) hopes to block EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, arguing it will create major economic burdens. She intends to seek a vote on a filibuster-proof resolution she introduced months ago that would strip the agency’s power, spokesman Robert Dillon said.

Dillon said Murkowski’s fears are not eased by EPA’s rule that limits permitting to the largest sources. “All of Senator Murkowski’s concerns still stand. We don’t believe it [the tailoring rule] will hold up in court. EPA can’t just by fiat change congressional law,” Dillon said.


More in Energy & Environment

Harvard Law professors fight over EPA’s climate rule

Read more »