EPA rule exempts many polluting industries from future air regulations
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday finalized a rule that would allow future greenhouse gas limits only on power plants, sidestepping oversight over the oil and gas industry, iron and steel manufacturers and other polluting industries.
The new rule from the EPA argues that only sectors whose pollution accounts for more than 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are “considered to contribute significantly to dangerous air pollution.”
The rule is a direct response to a 2017 executive order from President Trump that asked agencies to “immediately review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources.”
David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Climate and Clean Energy Program at the Natural Resources Defence Council, called the EPA’s new 3 percent figure arbitrary, given that the Clean Air Act called on the agency to regulate any industry that contributes significantly to dangerous air pollution.
“Well surprise, surprise. The only industry above that is the power sector, and power way above that, but even next biggest one, which is oil and gas and their methane leakage, falls blow that threshold, so all other industries would get a free pass on the principle section of the Clean Air Act that allows you to regulation greenhouse gasses,” he said.
“It’s a get out of the Clean Air Act free pass to every industry whose greenhouse gas emissions are smaller than the power sector,” he added.
According to the calculations from the EPA, the oil and gas sector contributes between 2.5 percent and 3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
But because the industry is responsible for methane emissions, its greenhouse gas contributions can be especially dangerous, given that the gas is 80 times more potent than carbon over a 20-year period.
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the oil and gas industry, said it is still reviewing the rule.
“Our focus remains on working with the Biden administration to advance sound policies that build on industry progress in addressing the risks of climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while maintaining access to affordable, reliable energy,” Frank Macchiarola, the group’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs, said in a statement.
Oil refiners, boiler makers, cement manufacturers, iron and steel producers and landfills would also not face additional greenhouse gas regulations.
“EPA’s new significance framework lays out how the agency will determine when stationary sources of greenhouse gases trigger a requirement” to set new standards, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release announcing the rule.
The rule won’t take effect for 60 days after it is published in the federal register, meaning it is likely to be blocked by the incoming Biden administration, which has pledged to sign an executive order on Day 1 freezing the implementation of any “midnight rules” that have not yet taken effect.
But if left to stand, the rule would make a significant dent in the Biden administration’s ability to meet its stated goal of getting the U.S. on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
“In the face of the current climate crisis and the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero, the agency’s conclusion is absurd. Even sectors, which contribute a small percentage of emissions may still be emitting a significant quantity of emissions and significantly endangering public health,” Jay Duffy with the Clean Air Task Force said in a release.
Duffy called the rule one more piece of the Trump administration’s “legacy as climate-deniers.”
Updated: 5:25 p.m.