EPA Won't Seek to Enforce Boiler MACT Deadlines After Recent Court Decision

In my prior post, I discussed the recent federal court ruling with found EPA's self-imposed stay of the Boiler MACT illegal.  Following the Court's ruling, concern was immediately raised by industry that they would be subject to the original deadlines that appear in the 2011 rulemaking. 

Yesterday, Administrator Jackson responded to a letter from Senator Ron Wyden regarding the EPA's position in light of the Court's ruling:

Regarding the impact of the recent court decision, we have carefully reviewed the effect that vacating the stay may have on new and existing sources and plan to address potential impacts. Specifically, using our enforcement discretion, the EPA will issue a no action assurance letter shortly, informing sources that EPA will not enforce any of the administrative notification requirements for new or existing boilers and incinerators in the 2011 Rules for a period of time while the EPA works to take final action on the proposal to reset these dates. For existing boilers and incinerators, these administrative notification requirements are the only obligations sources would otherwise have under the 2011 Rules prior to when the EPA intends to finalize the reconsideration process.

EPA also intends to reset the compliance clock once the final rule is issued:

Finally, the EPA recognizes that industry needs sufficient time to comply with these standards. As a result, the reconsideration proposal included a provision that would set new, later deadlines for meeting the standards set forth in the reconsideration proposal. While this is subject to the public comment
process, it was the EPA's intent in the proposed rule to allow the compliance clock to "reset" to provide the industry the full length of time - three years - provided in the Clean Air Act for compliance with the rules once they are finalized.

For a copy of Administrator Jackson's letter to the Senator, click here

 

 

EPA Will Likely Propose a 70 ppb Ozone Standard

The Obama Administration, after stopping the implementation of the Bush-era ozone standard, has delayed choosing a revised standard three times.  These delays had given hope that EPA may wait to choose a revised standard until after the election. 

In conversations with representatives for industry most impacted by the revised ozone standards, they told me they thought the Administration was positioning itself to delay implementation for an extended period of time.  Now, it appears EPA is completing the final steps toward selection of a revised standard.  On July 26th, EPA released the following statement:

Administrator Jackson is fully committed to finalizing EPA's reconsideration of the Clean Air Act health standard for ground level ozone. That reconsideration is currently going through interagency review led by OMB. Following completion of this final step, EPA will finalize its reconsideration, but will not issue the final rule on July 29th, the date the agency had intended. We look forward to finalizing this standard shortly. A new ozone standard will be based on the best science and meet the obligation established under the Clean Air Act to protect the health of the American people. In implementing this new standard, EPA will use the long-standing flexibility in the Clean Air Act to consider costs, jobs and the economy.

Background on EPA's Selection of a Revised Ozone Standard

The last time the ozone standard was revised was in 1997.  The 1997 standard was 84 parts per billion (ppb).  The Clean Air Act mandates review of federal air quality standards every five years. 

Back in 2006, the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC)- EPA's science advisory panel- recommended an ozone standard between 60 and 70 ppb after reviewing the latest studies.  In a very controversial move, Bush's EPA Administrator- Stephen Johnson- chose to set it at 75 ppb instead of a standard in the range recommended by CASAC.

Soon after the election, Obama's EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, announced the Agency was delaying implementation of the 75 ppb standard and revisiting the standard itself.  Since its initial announcement, EPA has delay taking action three separate times.

Costs Cannot Be Considered

The ozone standard is seen by many as the most costly regulatory decision EPA implements.  Total  cost of compliance with the Bush-era standard was estimated at roughly $8 billion.  A revised standard between 60 ppb-70 ppb will be much higher.  Its important to remember the the Supreme Court has already ruled that EPA cannot consider cost in selecting a standard (ATA v. Whitman).

Delays Already Have Avoided Implementation During Economic Downturn

 We probably have already forgotten the schedule for implementation of the proposed 2008 ozone standard (75 ppb).  Final designations were supposed to occur in March 2010.

Final designations would have immediately implemented tough new restrictions for growth in areas that didn't meet the standard.

Using EPA's 2008 proposed schedule as a guide, if EPA acts in August 2011 it is likely that final designations won't be effective until August 2013 or perhaps even longer.  Attainment deadlines pushing out to 2018-2035.

All Signs Point to a 70 ppb Ozone Standard

EPA's own statements point to a standard lower than 75 ppb.  Let's look at two of the sentences in EPA's recent announcement. I have bolded the key language:

  1. A new ozone standard will be based on the best science; and
  2. In implementing this new standard, EPA will use the long-standing flexibility in the Clean Air Act to consider costs, jobs and the economy;

First, EPA states it will select a standard based on the "best science."  As soon as EPA stopped the implementation of the Bush-era 75 ppb standard, it blasted the standard as not based on science.  EPA has boxed itself in a corner and must select a standard in the range recommended by CASAC of between 60 ppb - 70 ppb.

Second, EPA comments show it is already bracing for the backlash that will ensue by selecting a lower standard.  EPA will certainly take heat for imposing a very costly new regulation during a tough economy.  Therefore, it already sending a signal that will will try to ease the pain by "considering costs" when "implementing this new standard."  This could mean a longer implementation or extended compliance deadlines.

On July 13th, Administrator Jackson sent a letter to Senator Carper regarding the 2008 Bush era ozone standard.  This letter is yet another indication EPA will select a standard between 60 ppb to 70 ppb.  In her letter the Administrator basically states the 75 ppb standard was not legally defensible because of CASAC's recommendation. 

Based on its actions stopping the implementation of the 2008 proposed ozone standard, EPA has no choice but to select a standard within the rage recommended by CASAC.  Given the state of the economy, EPA also has no choice but to select a standard within that range that will have least economic impact- 70 ppb.   

 

Showdown in the Senate over EPA Climate Change Authority

As reported in the New York Times, Senator Murkowski announced that  the Senate will vote June 10th on her resolution to block EPA from implementing climate change regulation under the Clean Air ActThe proposal was announced this past December and the vote follows finalization of EPA regulations that will initiate regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) January 2011.

The legislative activity stems from the Supreme Court ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA which held that EPA had the authority to set standards for motor vehicles under Section 202 of the Clean Air Act to control GHGs.  Prior to establishing standards, Section 202 requires the EPA to make a finding that GHGs "cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare."  (so called "endangerment finding") 

On January 14, 2010, EPA finalized its Endangerment Finding.  The Murkowski resolution would undue the EPA finding, thereby effectively blocking implementation of GHG standards for motor vehicles. Here is the language from the resolution:

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress disapproves the rule submitted by the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the endangerment finding and the cause or contribute findings for greenhouse gases under section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act (published at 74 Fed. Reg. 66496 (December 15, 4 2009)), and such rule shall have no force or effect.

The resolution is based on the Congressional Review Act which gives Congress authority to disapprove Agency rules.   If utilized the CRA says the rule "may not be reissued in substantially the same form."  This from the New York Times:

Murkowski's resolution would need 51 votes to clear the chamber. She already has 41 co-sponsors, including three Democrats: Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Even if the resolution passes the Senate, it faces an uphill climb in the House, which does not have the same expedited procedures, and it faces a likely veto from President Obama. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has warned that nullifying the endangerment finding would upend the administration's joint EPA and Transportation Department fuel economy standards and greenhouse gas emission limits for cars and light-duty trucks.

(You can watch Senator's Murkowski's Floor Statement by clicking here)

While there may be a decent chance the resolution passes the Senate, it almost certainly won't make it past the President's desk. 

What is the true "scope" of the resolution?

While the resolution will never be signed by the President, does the resolution really accomplish what it is intended to accomplish- block EPA from regulating GHGs under the Clean Air Act?  There are a few reasons to believe that this is not the case:

  • Endangerment Finding is Limited to Motor Vehicle Rule-  The Endangerment Finding is a prerequisite to regulation of GHGs from motor vehicles.  However, GHGs can become a "regulated pollutant" through other means than the motor vehicle standards.  Any EPA action that is viewed as controlling emissions of GHGs automatically triggers multiple provisions of the Clean Air Act, most notably the New Source Review program.  While the resolution would delay EPA, it does not necessarily block EPA from regulating GHGs under the Clean Air Act.
  • CRA Standard has wiggle room-  The CRA states the regulation cannot be issued in "substantially the same form."  Couldn't EPA simply make a new affirmative endangerment finding based upon a wider set of scientific data or more recent data?  Couldn't this be viewed as a finding that is not "substantially" in the same form?

Senator Murkowski's effort is limited by what she can accomplish under the CRA.  Obviously, there must be an EPA regulation adopted for Congress to use its authority block it.  But let's be clear going forward, using the CRA means Congress cannot truly block EPA from regulating GHGs.  That could only be accomplished through Legislation which removed GHGs as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. 
 

EPA Provides Quick and Detailed Response to Senators on Climate Regulations

 

On February 19th, eight Democrat Senator's wrote a letter to EPA regarding its plans for issuance of greenhouse gas regulations for vehicles, factories and power plants.  This from the Wall Street Journal:

The lawmakers, including prominent Senators Max Baucus, (D., Mont.), Carl Levin, (D., Mich.) and John Rockefeller, (D., W.V), warned EPA chief Lisa Jackson in a letter that "ill-timed or imprudent regulation of [greenhouse gases] may squander critical opportunities for our nation, impeding the investment necessary to create jobs."

The letter could boost a Republican effort led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R., Alaska), to prevent the EPA from regulating stationary greenhouse gas emitters such as power plants, refineries, steel mills, chemical plants and cement kilns.

The Senators letter also showed there is still a basic misunderstanding of how regulation of GHGs emissions from vehicles are tied to stationary source regulation. 

The Senators suggest EPA move forward only with the Light Duty Vehicle rule setting GHG standards for vehicles so that there can be one national standard.  However, based on this comment, it appears the Senators did not understand that issuance of the Light Duty Vehicle rule will automatically trigger regulation of stationary sources without any additional EPA rulemaking.

EPA Responds

In perhaps the quickest response in history, EPA Administrator Jackson has already released her written response.  The response is notable not only for its timeliness, but the key insights it provides into EPA's greenhouse gas (GHG) rulemaking strategy.

The fact the letter provides so much valuable information about EPA's strategy only days after the Senator's letter was sent can only mean EPA's has decided on its path.  Now EPA is floating a trial balloon of its strategy in its response letter.  There are several key developments in the letter:

  1. No final GHG standards in 2010.  EPA will finalize the Light Duty Vehicle GHG rule in late March. However, the first vehicle GHG standard will be effective in 2011 (Model Year 2012).   EPA explains that its legal view is that GHG do not become a "regulated" pollutant under the Clean Air Act until the Model Year 2012 standards are effective in 2011.  By adopting this legal interpretation, EPA is effectively buying itself a year before GHG emissions from large stationary sources will be regulated.  Of course, its an open legal question as to whether future vehicle standards amount to "regulation" sufficient to trigger stationary source regulation of GHGs immediately. 
  2. EPA is planning major changes to its proposed Tailoring Rule. In the draft Tailoring Rule, EPA proposed federal permit triggers for GHGs of 10,000 or 25,000 metric tons of CO2. Based upon this letter, EPA is proposing to go higher, thereby bringing in even fewer large stationary sources of GHGs in the short term. For example, in 2011 only sources that already trigger federal permitting for non-GHG emissions will have to evaluate their GHG emissions for controls. After 2011, the letter suggests much higher triggers than 25,000 metric tons from 2012-2016.
  3. EPA is buying time on BACT.  Major sources triggering federal permits must install Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to reduce emissions.   A major issue has been EPA's determination of what will constitute BACT for GHGs.  Especially concerning was the fact some possible controls, like carbon sequestration for power plants is not yet ready for implementation.   By tying the date for regulation of GHGs from stationary sources to the 2012 model year vehicle regulations, EPA has bought itself a year to work through these issues. 

A couple of final points. EPA discusses the implications of Sen. Lisa Murkowski's proposed amendment to disapprove of EPA's "endangerment finding." EPA states the immediate result will be revival of the California Waiver for regulation GHGs from vehicles. EPA warns there will be no national standard for motor vehicle emissions.

Also noteworthy is the fact the letter simply waives off claims that EPA may not have the legal authority to set higher trigger thresholds for stationary sources that the 100/250 tons triggers in the Clean Air Act.  Administrator Jackson simply claims EPA has the authority and criticizes business groups for suggesting they would appeal the Tailoring Rule.

Finally, EPA Administrator concludes the letter by making the rather harsh statement that passage of the proposed Senator Murkowski resolution would put the U.S. behind China and more like Saudi Arabia its treatment of the issue of Climate Change. No doubt, that type of rhetoric is designed to discourage Democratic support for the resolution.

Very interesting response from EPA.  It is written in such a way to suggest..."no need for immediate legislative action, nothing it really going to happen for at least a year if not longer."  However, this assumes EPA has the legal authority to implement the strategy suggested in its response letter.

EPA Announces Risky Regulatory Approach on Climate Change

On September 30th, U.S. EPA announced the release of its proposed rule regulating emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from large industrial sources. The proposal represents a risky move by U.S. EPA in the event climate change legislative efforts fail and U.S. EPA is forced to move forward with the rules.  The risk is two fold: 1) U.S. EPA's action is grounded in questionable legal authority; and 2) the action starts a process that eventually leads to regulation of small sources and issuance of millions of federal air permits.

Under the proposal, at least initially, only large industrial facilities that emit at least 25,000 tons of GHGs a year will be required to obtain construction and operating permits covering their emissions.  The construction permits will come under U.S. EPA's New Source Review Program (NSR) and the operating permits will come under its Title V Program (Title V). 

What does triggering NSR mean for these sources?

Once a source triggers NSR, it must go through a lengthy and complicated permitting review process.  The review is designed to identify the best available control technology (BACT) which will reduce emission of the pollutant, in this case greenhouse gases (GHGs). 

Unlike the proposed cap and trade legislation, each and every source triggering NSR will be required to go through this case by case review process and install controls. Under cap and trade, sources can either install controls or cover their emission by purchasing pollution permits (allowances).  Therefore, cap and trades results in more cost effective reduction in emissions than a simple mandate on all sources.

What does coverage under Title V mean for these sources?

The Title V permit is meant to cover large sources that typically have multiple air permits or are subject to a variety of air pollution regulations.  The purpose of Title V is to consolidate all these requirements into a single permit.  Some Title V permits can be as large as 500 pages or more. Under the proposed rule, sources that emit more than 25,000 tons per year of CO2 or CO2 equivalent emissions (CO2e) will be required to obtain Title V permits. 

What doesn't make sense is that some sources may only be covered by Title V permits because of their GHG emissions.  This could result in the strange outcome of Title V permits that are virtually blank because those sources have very little other applicable air pollution regulations. The effectiveness of such an approach has to be questioned.

Key Issue: Established Thresholds Triggering NSR or Title V 

Why is the EPA's action risky?  The agency is proposing the "tailoring" thresholds applicable to GHG emissions that trigger regulation:

  • 25,0000 tons of CO2e for new sources triggers NSR
  • an emission increase of between 10,000 and 25,000 tons of CO2e from existing sources following a modification to the facility will trigger NSR
  • Sources with 25,000 tons of CO2e will be required to obtain Title V permits after five years

Only problem is the Clean Air Act specifies the following thresholds:

  • 100 tons from 28 specified industries trigger NSR for new sources
  • 250 tons from all other types of sources trigger NSR for new sources
  • 100 tons from any source triggers Title V

EPA notes that without modification of the thresholds 40,000 NSR permits would be triggered each year, where currently only 300 are triggered.  Also, 6,000,000 sources would fall under the Title V program whereas the program only currently covers 15,000 sources.

Its a pretty basic tenant of law that Agencies must follow statutory law and cannot re-write them using regulations.  Former Air Administrator Jeff Holmstead commented on this issue in the New York Times

"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,"

Major Risk #1-  EPA could lose its legal argument that it has authority to raise the thresholds

How does the EPA claim it has the legal authority to raise the thresholds?  Under the doctrines of "absurd results" and "administrative necessity."  Both legal doctrines are similar in that Courts have recognized the ability of agencies to depart from the plain meaning of a statute if application would result in "absurd results" or there is an "administrative necessity." 

EPA explains why these doctrines should apply in the preamble to the rule:

[T]o apply the statutory PSD (NSR) and title V applicability thresholds to sources of GHG emissions would bring tens of thousands of small sources and modifications into the PSD program each year, and millions of small sources into the title V program.  This extraordinary increase in the scope of the permitting programs, coupled with the resulting burdens on the small sources and on the permitting authorities, were not contemplated by Congress in enacting the PSD and title V programs.  Moreover, the administrative strains would lead to multi-year backlogs in the issuance of PSD and title V permits, which would undermine the purposes of those programs.  Sources of all types- whether they emit GHGs or no- would face long delays in receiving PSD permits, which Congress intended to allow construction or expansion.  Similarly, sources would face long delays in receiving Title V permits, which Congress intended to promote enforceability.  (preamble pg. 20)

EPA goes on to state in the preamble that courts are "reluctant" to invoke the "absurd results" doctrine "precisely because it entails departing from the literal application of statutory provisions."  However, EPA asserts this is "one of the rare cases" where it should apply. (preamble pg. 63)

If the Court disagrees with EPA's legal rationale, the rule would be rendered illegal and sent back to U.S. EPA.  However, even without the "tailoring rule" NSR and title V would apply to GHG emissions. 

EPA has stated its intent to move forward with other climate change regulations, such as the light-duty vehicle rule (which EPA says will be finalized no later than March 2010).  After these rules are finalized, GHGs are considered a "regulated pollutant."  If the attempt to raise the thresholds is thrown out, GHG status of a "regulated pollutant" would mandate application of the 100/250 ton NSR and 100 tons thresholds set forth in the Clean Air Act.

For this reason EPA's proposed rule represents a major gamble.  Perhaps that is the leverage they are looking for in the climate change legislative negotiations.  However, if things fall apart EPA may have crossed the point of no return.

Major Risk #2:  The thresholds are temporary in nature resulting in regulation of much smaller sources in the future. 

In U.S. EPA's Press Release Administrator Jackson states

“This is a common sense rule that is carefully tailored to apply to only the largest sources -- those from sectors responsible for nearly 70 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions sources. This rule allows us to do what the Clean Air Act does best – reduce emissions for better health, drive technology innovation for a better economy, and protect the environment for a better future – all without placing an undue burden on the businesses that make up the better part of our economy.”

Jackson made the announcement regarding the proposed rule during a speech to the Governor's Global Climate Summit.  In her remarks she made the following statement:

Defenders of the status quo are going to oppose this with everything they have. Very soon, we will hear about doomsday scenarios – with EPA regulating everything from cows to the local Dunkin’ Donuts. But let’s be clear: that is not going to happen. We have carefully targeted our efforts to exempt the vast majority of small and medium-sized businesses. We know the corner coffee shop is no place to look for meaningful carbon reductions.

While I do not assert EPA is going to regulating the local Dunkin' Donuts, I do think the EPA's description that it will only apply to the largest sources is misleading.  EPA makes clear through out its preamble that the proposed 25,000 CO2e thresholds represents only a "first phase" of the rule.  This is because EPA believes the "absurd results" and "administrative necessity" doctrines, if applicable, only provide temporary relief from the Clean Air Act stated thresholds.  

EPA says that "if  variance from the statutory requirements nevertheless is necessary to allow administrability, the variance must be limited as much as possible." (preamble pg. 20). EPA describes the process in its preamble as follows:

The first phase, which would last 6 years, would establish a temporary level for the PSD and title V applicability thresholds at 25,000 tons per year (tpy), on "carbon dioxide equivalent" (CO2e) basis, and a temporary PSD significance level for GHG emissions of between 10,000 and 25,000 tpy CO2e.  EPA would also take other streamlining actions during this time.  Within 5 years of the final version of this rule, EPA would conduct a study to assess the administrability issues.  The, EPA would conduct another rulemaking, to be completed by the end of the sixth year, that would promulgate, as the second phase, revised applicability and significance level thresholds and other streamlining techniques, as appropriate. (preamble pg.2)

EPA contemplates taking "streamlining activities" vaguely referenced as changing potential to emit calculations as well as creation of general permits.  EPA also states "we expect permitting authorities to ramp up resources for permit issuance."  (preamble pg. 64).  Taking these actions will allow EPA to "bridge the gap between literal language and congressional intent", thereby making it possible to "include more of these sources" in the NSR and Title V program.  (preamble pg. 70).

As a result, EPA is clearly stating its intent that more and more sources fall under the NSR and title V programs by gradually reducing the thresholds over time down to the Clean Air Act statutorily established thresholds.  While EPA may state that their intent is to only gradually phase in smaller source over many years, the argument will be how quickly can "streamlining" techniques be implemented and more permit reviewers hired to bring more and more sources under the program. 

Therefore, EPA's proposed rule fails to set forth a policy statement that regulation of small sources of GHGs is illogical.  Rather, EPA states it needs more time and resources to bring these sources under the program.  By no means am I a defender of the status quo, but it is certainly fair to question whether this is the best approach to addressing climate change. 

OMB Critique of Proposed Endangerment Finding Causes Controversy

As reported by the AP, "White House Memo Challenges Finding on Warming", an OMB document contains opinions that regulation of the greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act could have dramatic impacts on the economy.  The release of the OMB memo seems to have put the Obama Administration on the defensive. 

Major news outlets including the N.Y Times, Wall Street Journal and Associated Press reported the uproar regarding the memo. Here is how the Associated Press described the controversy surrounding the memo:

An Environmental Protection Agency proposal that could lead to regulating the gases blamed for global warming will prove costly for factories, small businesses and other institutions, according to a White House document.

The nine-page memo is a compilation of opinions made by a dozen federal agencies and departments during an internal review before the EPA issued a finding in April that greenhouse gases pose dangers to public health and welfare.

That finding could set in motion for the first time the regulation of six heat-trapping gases from cars and trucks, factories and other sources under the Clean Air Act.

On Capital Hill, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson faced questions from Senators regarding the memo (video of her testimony). The memo was described by some as the "smoking gun" that supported Republican and business claims that regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act would have a devastating impact on the economy.

The memo also called into question EPA's claim that the scientific underpinnings for its proposed endangerment finding made an "overwhelming" case for regulation due to the threats presented by climate change. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the memo criticized EPA's scientific support for the endangerment finding:

“The amount of acknowledged lack of understanding about the basic facts surrounding [greenhouse gases] seem to stretch the precautionary principle to providing regulation in the face of unprecedented uncertainty,” the memo reads.

After the release of the memo and the ensuing uproar, the Wall Street Journal suggested EPA may be wavering in its commitment to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Such conclusions seem to be supported by statements made by  the Director,of OMB Peter Orszag, on his blog.  

Media reports today are suggesting that OMB has found fault with EPA’s proposed finding that emissions of greenhouse gases from motor vehicles contribute to air pollution that endangers public health and welfare. Any reports suggesting that OMB was opposed to the finding are unfounded...

Perhaps more importantly, OMB concluded review of the preliminary finding several weeks ago, which then allowed EPA to move forward with the proposed finding. As I wrote on this blog on April 17, the "proposed finding is carefully rooted in both law and science." I also noted: "By itself, the EPA’s proposed finding imposes no regulation. (Indeed, by itself, it requires nothing at all.) If and when the endangerment finding is made final, the EPA will turn to the question whether and how to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from new automobiles." 

Orszag seems to be going out of his way to minimize the significance of the endangerment finding.  Such statement belittle the fact that if the endangerment finding is finalized it will set in motion significant regulation of sources under the Clean Air Act.  

After reading the the coverage, I just don't understand all the fuss. Of course regulation under the Clean Air Act would have dramatic impacts on the economy. U.S. EPA's Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking (ANPR) sets forth numerous examples of the difficulties and issues associated with regulation under the Act.   Even though the ANPR was written during the Bush years, the issues it identifies remain valid.   I have written numerous posts discussing how the structure of the Clean Air Act is ill-suited for regulating greenhouse gases. 

Lets face it, the Obama Administration understands these issues as well.  That is why it has been using the threat of regulation to leverage passage of cap and trade legislation.  EPA Administrator Jackson reiterated support for cap and trade legislation today. 

Thus far the Administration has taken very slow and deliberate steps toward regulation.  Many critical decisions related to climate change are under "EPA review " or in the draft stage. To date, environmental groups have been content to let the Administration move forward at its own pace.  They are convinced regulation is inevitable. 

How long can EPA realistically string out the decisions on whether to address climate change under the Clean Air Act? The longer the string out the decision, the less effective EPA's threats are in leveraging Congress.  At some point, Congress may just be convinced EPA is bluffing. 

 

EPA's Proposed Endagerment Finding for CO2 is Leaked

Greenwire obtained a leaked copy of a U.S. EPA powerpoint presentation that discussed the likely elements of the "endangerment finding" and a timeline for action.  The presentation includes a slide showing a timeline for action.  According to the slide, the Agency will miss the April 2nd anniversary of the Massachusetts v. EPA Supreme Court decision, but is projected to sign the rule on April 16.   

In Massachusetts v. EPA decided in April of 2007, the Supreme Court held that greenhouse gases (GHGs) are pollutants that may be regulated under the Clean Air Act. But the Court did not go far enough to say EPA must regulate GHGs. At issue in this case was Section 202 of the Clean Air Act which covers regulation of greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. For a pollutant to be regulated under Section 202 it must be “reasonably be anticipated” to “endanger public health or welfare.” Therefore, EPA must conclude GHGs from motor vehicles endanger public health before regulation commences The Court remanded the Section 202 determination to EPA to make the necessary "endangerment finding."

As expected and detailed in the EPA powerpoint, the Agency is poised to make a positive endangerment finding.  The presentation also contains additional insights as to what to expect in the April 16the finding:

  • EPA will expand the definition of "pollutants" to include the six GHGs traditionally regulated (CO2, CH4, N2O, HFCs, PFCs, SF6).  It will leave out other possible pollutants such as black carbon
  • EPA will make a positive finding that GHGs impact both "public welfare" and "public health."  An earlier proposed finding did not make a finding that "public health" was impacted.  EPA will cite to rising temperatures, worse air quality and extreme storm events as impacts on public health
  • EPA notes that the Administrator has discretion to determine some sources of GHGs are de minimis or insignificant.  I assume this is meant to address the concern expressed by the U.S. Chamber that everything down to churches and retail stores will be regulated as source of GHG emissions
  • EPA will propose two options for listing GHGs as "air pollutants."  Option 1: group the six GHGs together as CO2e (C02 equivalents).  Option 2:  list each GHG individually.  EPA prefers the first option as CO2e have developed into the common currency in other regulatory and trading mechanisms
  • EPA discusses the impact of the two options discussed above on different regulatory sections of the Clean Air Act.  Notably, PSD and NSPS are included on the list.  This seems to recognize that the endangerment finding could have an immediate effect of requiring permits for new sources of GHGs.

The "endangerment finding" is the first major domino to fall leading to comprehensive regulation of GHGs.  While President Obama's Cap and Trade proposal is drawing more scrutiny, it presents a much better option than regulation under the Clean Air Act.  Let's hope that legislation can pass before too many of the dominoes fall.

Major Development Regarding CO2 Emissions from Coal Plants

May you live in interesting times....Yesterday EPA Administrator Jackson issued a letter granting the Sierra Club's petition for reconsideration of a Deseret Power memo issued by former EPA Administrator Johnson.  The Petition seeks reconsideration of the Johnson memo which interpreted EPA regulations defining the pollutants covered by federal permitting under the Clean Air Act.  The Johnson memo said that CO2 was not a regulated pollutant under the Clean Air Act (CAA) for purposes of permitting. 

The memo was issued following the decision by the EPA's Environmental Board of Review in the Deseret Power case concluding the CAA was ambiguous and that EPA had discretion to determine whether CO2 was a pollutant subject to regulation.  Johnson, in one of his last acts before leaving office, tried to fill the void by issuing an interpretive memo determining CO2 was not a regulated pollutant.

There was tremendous pressure on new EPA Administrator Jackson to revoke, stay or invalidate the memo.  Such action would have effectively put on hold about a 100 pending permits for coal fired power plants.  In a prior post, I predicted that despite the pressure Jackson would take a more deliberate approach.  She has done exactly that by not issuing a stay and announcing EPA will embark on a formal rulemaking process.  (even I get one right now and then)

While Jackson has chosen to address the issue slowly, she did include language in her letter that cast a great deal of uncertainty regarding pending permits:

In the meantime, the Agency emphasizes a point noted in the memorandum itself: the memorandum does not bind States issuing permits under their own State Implementation Plans.  In addition, given the Agency's decision to grant reconsideration of the memorandum, other PSD permitting authorities should not assume that the memorandum is the final word on the appropriate interpretation of Clean Air Act requirements.

While this statement casts some uncertainty, the Johnson memo is still legally effective.  Unlike others in the blogosphere predicting stoppage of all permitting for new coal plants,  I believe permits will still move forward in State's willing to issue them. 

Yesterday, EPA Administrator Jackson also issued a statement regarding her decision to grant reconsideration:

“I am granting this petition because we must learn more about how this memo affects all relevant stakeholders impacted by its provisions,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson “This will be a fair, impartial and open process that will allow the American public and key stakeholders to review this memorandum and to comment on its potential effects on communities across the country. EPA’s fundamental mission is to protect human health and the environment and we intend to do just that.”

My take on the statement is: a) EPA intends to move through a slow rulemaking process; and b) once EPA completes the rulemaking process you can pretty much count on the fact CO2 emissions will be regulated.