Reading the Fine Print on the EPA's Aggressive New Stance

Bloggers debate the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to regulate industrial greenhouse gas emissions

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Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson's announcement that the EPA would be regulating power plants and other large greenhouse gas emitters has sparked a storm of reaction. Coinciding with the introduction of the Kerry-Boxer climate change bill in the Senate (covered by the Atlantic Wire here), the move has produced the usual choruses of cheers and groans from the pro-regulation and anti-regulation crowds, respectively. But there are subtler responses, too. Some suggest this is an administrative strategy to force Congress into passing climate change legislation. Others see it as a signal to those further afield ahead of the December U.N. conference in Copenhagen. But neither of these possibilities matter if the proposal turns out to be illegal, as some pundits say it may.

The best responses:

  • Fighting Industry Scare Tactics  Janet Wilson at Grist writes that Lisa Jackson's announcement could be a "shrewd maneuver to quash industry scare tactics and quell rising panic on Main Street about the potential costs of far-reaching climate legislation." Jackson, she notes, dismissed the "doomsday scenarios" and emphasized that rules wouldn't affect "the corner coffee shop."
  • Dangerous to the Economy?  Bill Kovacs writes for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been a staunch opponent of climate change legislation. He argues that the EPA rule "rests on shaky legal ground" and thus "may have only kicked the problem down the road." Second, he describes the required permits for emissions as "major roadblocks in the way of build[ing] new ... facilities and projects as the country tries to work its way out of the recession." The permits would cost $125,000, he says, and take "866 hours to complete."
  • A Legal Headache  UCLA law professor Ann Carlson at the Huffington Post dives into the legal problems with the move: the new rule only requires permits for facilities "emit[ting] at least 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year." This means small emitters are fine, the EPA isn't "overwhelmed with having to issue permits to hundreds of thousands of small businesses," and the rule "look[s] reasonable."
The problem, though, is that the EPA is regulating greenhouse gas emissions under a section of the Clean Air Act that was designed with more traditional pollutants like carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide in mind [and] says that facilities that emit somewhere between 100 and 250 tons of any pollutant are subject to regulation, a more reasonable amount for traditional pollutants. Though Jackson's rule makes a lot of common sense, businesses are likely to sue to overturn it saying that the rule isn't consistent with what the Clean Air Act requires.
  •  An 'Or Else' Scenario for Kerry-Boxer Bill  The move "puts pressure on Congress to pass a climate bill," says Treehugger's Brian Merchant, and signals to the "global community," ahead of multilateral talks, "that even without Congress, Obama is willing to start curbing emissions and transitioning to a clean energy economy."
  • A Temporary Assertion of EPA Power  The New Republic's Bradford Plumer explained two weeks ago that "having the EPA tackle carbon (as opposed to Congress) doesn't make for sustainable policy in the long-term": a new administration could easily reverse the Obama administration's policies.
  • A Small Step on Reform  Grist's David Roberts points out that the announcement did not "propose ... regulations on power plants," as some have suggested. It simply "establishes that when the EPA regulates stationary sources, it will only regulate those that emit more than 25,000 tons." Regulating all the "churches! schools! marathons!" that would fall under the earlier Clean Air Act threshold of 250 tons, he explains "would be a nightmare." Also, he added, the move "has been expected for a while ... it's not quite so epochal as some are making out."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.