U.S. EPA Proposes to Designate Additional Ohio Counties as Non-Attainment with New Fine Particle Standard

Back on December 14, 2012, EPA strengthened the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for fine particle pollution.  The standard was strengthened from 15.0 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3) to 12.0 ug/m3.  

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA first asks States to propose which counties should be deemed as not meeting the standard (i.e. "Nonattainment") based upon air quality monitoring data it complied over the last three years.  

On December 13, 2013, Ohio EPA proposed five counties- Cuyahoga, Stark, Hamilton, Clermont and Butler be designated nonattainment.  On August 19, 2014, U.S. EPA issued its response indicating that it intended to increase the number of counties designated nonattainment to 8 full counties and 5 partial counties. 

Ohio Recommended Nonattainment Areas and U.S. EPA's Intended Designated Nonattainment Areas for the 2012 annual PM 2.5 NAAQS
Area Ohio's Recommendations

U.S. EPA Intended Designated Nonattainment Areas

Canton-Massillon Stark Stark, Summit, Wayne (Partial)
Cleveland Cuyahoga Cuyahoga, Lake and Lorain
Cincinnati-Hamilton, OH-KY Butler, Clermont and Hamilton

OH: Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, Warren (partial)

KY: Boone (partial), Campbell (partial) and Kenton (partial)

What implications do these designations have on Ohio?

Ohio will have to develop a State Implementation Plan (SIP) which demonstrates how the State will bring these counties into attainment with the new PM 2.5 standard.  The SIP will contain new air pollution control regulations.  This means increased air pollution regulations in these areas for existing business.

In addition, once the nonattainment classifications are finalized (likely in December 2014), air permitting will become more challenging in these nonattainment areas.  New Source Review requirements will require larger sources to offset any pollution increases before a permit can be issued.  Offset means either finding other businesses willing to reduce emissions or take emission credits for facilities that recently shut down.

The new requirements could slow down permitting for larger factories in these areas.  Also, the net result can be to make nonattainment areas less competitive in attracting new manufacturing jobs.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments Regarding "Absurd Results" and Permitting for Greenhouse Gases

On February 24th, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA- the case which challenges EPA's attempt to phase in permitting requirements for sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  In the end, the case may be much to do about nothing...except another example of how congressional gridlock prevents logical resolutions to complex issues.

 

 

Challenge to EPA's Tailoring Rule

In Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court upheld the ability of EPA to regulate GHGs from motor vehicles (the so called "Tailpipe Rule").  In that decision the Court determined that the term "any air pollutant" included GHGs so long as EPA determined GHGs were a threat to public health and environment.

EPA determined GHGs were a threat to public health and the environment in its "Endangerment Finding."  The Supreme Court declined to hear the case challenging EPA's finding. Following EPA's determination, GHGs officially became a regulated air pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

Following EPA's Endangerment Finding, EPA concluded that complex federal permitting requirements (PSD and Title V) would also be triggered for sources of GHG because the term "any air pollutant" was used in that portion of the Clean Air Act as well.  Pursuant to that section of the Act, any facility that emits more the 100/250 tons per year of a pollutant regulated under the Act must go through EPA's New Source Review (NSR) program. As part of NSR, new sources or existing sources that are modified must demonstrate they have installed Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to reduce emissions of each regulated air permit.

Because GHGs are emitted in much greater quantities than typical Clean Air Act pollutants, EPA was concerned that application of the 100/250 ton per year threshold to GHGs would trigger thousands of permits. EPA indicated the Agency and States did not have the capacity to process that number of permits.

To address the situation, EPA promulgated the Tailoring Rule to temporarily raise the permitting thresholds. Under the first stage of the Tailoring Rule, new facilities that emit 100,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide-equivalent and existing facilities that increase their emissions by 75,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide-equivalent will trigger NSR,

Petitioners challenged EPA's Tailoring Rule by arguing EPA did not have the authority to simply re-write the statute.  They also pointed to language in the PSD portion of the Clean Air Act which suggests PSD was meant to apply to pollutants with local impacts, not global impacts.  Industry challengers were concerned that allowing 90 different state and local permitting authorities to decide what constituted BACT for GHGs would be chaos.

Justices Highlight the "Absurdity" of EPA's Proposal

EPA justified its Tailoring Rule based on the legal theory that it would temporarily adjust the 250/100 trigger thresholds because applying those thresholds immediately to GHGs would lead to "absurd results."  

Justice Kagan noted that the purpose of the 250/100 trigger thresholds were to differentiate between large and small sources.  Justices Breyer and Alito followed that point by noting EPA's position was illogical in that EPA said the trigger thresholds led to absurd results, yet EPA would eventually work toward utilizing those thresholds for GHGs.

Clearly, the Justices were highlighting a core issue with EPA's Tailoring Rule.  Perhaps it would have been better to simply pick a more logical threshold for GHGs that would have differentiated between large and small sources of GHGs.  

EPA's attorney basically acknowledged that may have been a better approach, but EPA was concerned simply coming up with an entirely new threshold went beyond its authority.  EPA argued, rather than totally eliminating the 250/100 thresholds for GHGs, EPA would re-interpret other policy positions to try capture only larger sources.  For example, EPA could look at a source's actual emissions versus their potential-to-emit (assumed operation 24/7) when determining if the 250/100 ton threshold was exceeded for GHGs.

EPA's argument seems pretty weak.  It is not simply the administrative burden of regulating thousands and thousands of sources of GHGs.  Rather, it is the fact such approach clearly goes against the intent of the Clean Air Act PSD regulations to regulate only large sources.  The Court seemed troubled by EPA's attempt to temporarily raise permitting thresholds.

Challenge to EPA's Tailoring Rule Becomes "Much to do About Nothing"

While the Court seemed troubled by EPA's approach, even if it vacates the Tailoring Rule, the Court's decision will likely have very little impact on EPA's overall effort to regulate GHGs.

Challengers conceded in their briefs that EPA has the authority to regulate GHGs from sources of other pollutants subject to National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for which geographic area is in attainment (referred to as "anyway sources").  As noted by Chief Justice Roberts, this construction would allow EPA to regulate 83% of GHG stationary source emissions versus 86% under EPA's more expansive reading.

When Justices pressed why they should care about a fight over 3% of the emissions, EPA's attorney argued such an interpretation would be inconsistent with EPA's prior interpretations. However, Justice Breyer noted that such an interpretation "does less violence" to the Clean Air Act than EPA's proposed ratcheting up of the 250/100 trigger thresholds.  

Based on questioning from the Justices, the most likely outcome of the case is that only 3% of emissions will be impacted either way.  

Supreme Court Argument Highlights the Problem with an Ineffectual Congress

Virtually everyone, including EPA, concedes the 250/100 tons thresholds don't make sense when applied to GHGs.  EPA has previously admitted that the Clean Air Act, as currently constructed, is ill suited for regulation of GHGs.  However, with Congress unable to compromise, the country is left with the false choice of doing nothing to combat climate change or utilize an Act that was last amended nearly 25 years ago.

The stakes on climate change are simply too high to be left with this result.  The "do nothing" approach on climate change is a non-starter.  However, the uncertainty and "absurdity" that results from using the current Clean Air Act construct to regulate GHGs has unreasonable implications for industry.  

Climate change regulation has greater implications for the county than, perhaps, even the original issues that shaped the Clean Air Act.  Yet, the inability of Congress to reach middle ground will result in the institution of imperfect and impractical climate change regulations. 

[Photo courtesy www.TheEnvironmentalBlog.org]

EPA Maintains Tailoring Rule Thresholds for Greenhouse Gas Permitting...But the Clock is Ticking

Last month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected challenges to U.S. EPA's Tailoring Rule which establishes the permitting threshold for greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutants.  On July 3rd, EPA issued a rulemaking that will maintain the current GHG thresholds for the immediate future.  The question is how long before environmental groups push EPA to lower the thresholds?

Tailoring Rule

Pursuant to the Clean Air Act, any facility that emits more the 100/250 tons per year of a pollutant regulated under the Act must go through EPA's New Source Review  (NSR) program.  As part of NSR, new sources or existing sources that are modified must demonstrate they have installed Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to reduce emissions of each regulated air permit.

Once EPA promulgated the Tailpipe Rule to control GHG emissions from vehicles, GHG's became a "regulated pollutant" for purpose of NSR.  Once GHGs became a  "regulated pollutant" any source that emits GHGs above applicable thresholds would trigger NSR.

Because GHGs are emitted in much greater quantities than typical Clean Air Act pollutants, EPA was concerned that application of the 100/250 ton per year threshold to GHGs would trigger thousands of permits. EPA and the States did not have the capacity to process that number of permits. 

To address the situation, EPA promulgated the Tailoring Rule to temporarily raise the permitting thresholds.  Under the first stage of the Tailoring Rule, new facilities that emit 100,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide-equivalent and existing facilities that increase their emissions by 75,000 tons per year of carbon dioxide-equivalent will trigger NSR.

EPA Must Eventually Lower GHG Thresholds

In the July 3rd action, EPA said that the States and EPA did not have the capacity to process additional NSR permit that would be required if it lowered the threshold.  Therefore, it kept the trigger thresholds at 100,000 and 75,000 tons per year. EPA pointed to the economy's impacted on federal and state budgets as one reason that permitting authorities lacked additional capacity to process a greater number of permits.

EPA has announced that it will study the burdens associated with lowering GHG thresholds by April 30, 2015.  EPA has said, following completion of the study, that it will review the permitting thresholds and determine if they should be lowered by April 30, 2016.

The EPA must eventually lower the thresholds.  The 100/250 ton per year trigger threshold for NSR is in the Clean Air Act.  EPA amend the trigger threshold through rulemaking (i.e. the Tailoring Rule).  To support the Tailoring Rule, EPA relied on legal precedent that EPA says provides it authority to adjust the statutory thresholds through rulemaking temporarily.

How Long Before EPA is Pressured to Lower the Thresholds?

In their comments to EPA's proposed rule, environmental groups urged EPA to lower the permitting thresholds.  In an article appearing in BNA, David Doniger, policy director for the Natural Resource Defense Council's (NRDC) Climate Center, indicated the organization would support EPA position...for now.

“Certainly, this holding things level knocks the legs out from under the feverish claims that EPA was on the march to get to hotdog stands,” Doniger said. “This signals that there's great reluctance on EPA's part to get beyond the largest sources.”

While the NRDC and other groups are willing to hold off for now, its clear that their expectation is EPA will lower the thresholds in 2016.  It will be very difficult for EPA to maintain that there is no ability to process additional permits by that date. 

EPA Applies Plantwide Applicability Limits (PALs) to GHGs

A PAL is a site-specific plantwide emission level for a pollutant that allows the source to make changes at the facility without triggering the requirements of the PSD program, provided emissions do not exceed the PAL level.  Instead of a facility having to analyze each emission unit as a potential modification that may exceed NSR thresholds, the PAL says as long as overall plant emissions form all sources do not exceed the PAL, the facility will not trigger NSR.

In the July 3rd rulemaking, EPA is  revising the PAL regulations to allow for GHG PALs to be established on a CO2e basis.  This should provide more flexibility and reduce the number of permits that would otherwise be triggered through plant modifications.

 

Court Validates EPA's Approach to Regulating Greenhouse Gases....What is next?

In perhaps the biggest environmental decision in decades, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld all aspects of EPA's complex regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.  Each piece of EPA regulation was controversial, yet the Court validated the overall approach paving the way for future action by EPA. 

Flashback several years ago, when the Obama Administration stated its preference was to enact cap-and-trade legislation to address climate change.  The Administration it preferred Congressional action rather than using the authority under the Clean Air Act which it saw as ill-suited for regulation of GHGs.  In an attempt to encourage a reluctant Congress to act on the controversial legislation, EPA threatened that it would proceed with enacting regulations under its existing Clean Air Act authority.   

Congressional efforts to pass cap-and-trade failed, while EPA continued to march forward with regulations.  Like a series of dominoes, once the initial regulations were promulgated successive regulation followed capturing more sources.  Here is a brief re-cap of EPA's actions:

  • Endangerment Finding- before regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) from motor vehicles, the Supreme Court told EPA in Massachusetts v. EPA that the Agency must first determine whether GHG emissions "endanger public health;"
  • Tailpipe Rule-  After making the determination GHG motor vehicle emissions did endanger public health, EPA enacted standards for emissions from motor vehicles under the Tailpipe rule;
  • "Regulated Pollutant"-  Under the CAA's structure, once a pollutant becomes "regulated" from any source, stationary sources must comply with New Source Review (NSR) requirements.  The CAA establishes a permitting threshold of 100/250 tons per year for any "regulated pollutant."  EPA issued the "timing rule" to clarify that GHGs from factories and other so called "stationary sources" would be covered by NSR once the Tailpipe standards were effective.
  • Tailoring Rule-  EPA determined that automatic application of the 100/250 ton threshold for stationary sources would overwhelm regulatory agencies,  The Agency estimated federal permit applications would jump from 280 per year to 81,000 per year. To soften the blow of inclusion of GHG emissions in NSR permitting, EPA enacted the Tailoring Rule.  Through the rule, EPA temporarily raised the permitting trigger thresholds from the CAA 100/250 tons up to 75,000 tons per year.

Industry and some States filed challenges to each of the rules discussed above.  The Court consolidated those challenges and on June 26th, the D.C. Circuit issued its opinion in Coalition for Responsible Regulation, Inc. v. EPA, No. 09-1322 (D.C. Cir. June 26, 2012).   The Court rejected all of the Coalition's challenges to each of the EPA rules. 

While an appeal to the Supreme Court is likely, the D.C. Circuit often cited to the Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA to support upholding the EPA rules.  Therefore, it is quite possible the Supreme Court will reject a petition to hear an appeal.

Notable Findings of the D.C. Circuit

The importance of Court's decision cannot be overstated.  The most fundamental finding was the Court upheld every aspect of EPA's overall regulatory strategy for GHGs.  Here are some other key findings of the Court:

  1. Science v. Policy-  The Court said that EPA's was directed by the CAA to make its Endangerment finding based purely on science, not policy.  Petitioners wanted EPA to consider other factors, such as: implications on the economy; whether GHG regulation would be effective in mitigating climate change; and whether society would simply adapt to climate change. The Court held EPA was limited to making a determination as to whether GHGs from motor vehicles endanger public health and welfare based  purely upon science.  The Court noted that EPA relied upon reviews of some 18,000 peer reviewed scientific studies in concluding GHG emissions do endanger public health.
  2. Precautionary Principle-  The Petitioners challenged EPA's Endangerment Finding because it did not specifically determine the level of atmospheric concentration of GHGs that endanger public health (i.e. the safe levels of GHGs).  The Court found the CAA is "precautionary and preventive" in nature.  In other words, EPA need not establish with certainty that climate change is occurring and will cause specific harms.  EPA only needed to find that the scientific evidence show its reasonable to anticipate dangers to public health if GHGs are not controlled.
  3. Those Who Benefit from Reduced Regulation Don't Have Standing to Challenge the Reduction-  Of all the EPA climate change rule-making, the Tailoring Rule seemed to be the most susceptible to legal challenge.  EPA, in essence, re-wrote a statue through rule-making.  This is typically not a power granted the executive over the legislative branch of government.  Perhaps to avoid confronting the issue, the Court held the petitioners had no standing to challenge the relaxation of the 100/250 ton per year permitting threshold in the Tailoring Rule because petitioners only benefit from the rule.  The Court questioned why Petitioners would want the rule struck down triggering thousands of federal permits.
  4. Court Says Congressional Action Unlikely-  In commentary, the Court said it hat "serious doubts" that Congress will ever enact legislation addressing Climate Change. 

What's Next?

If the decision stands, it paves the way for EPA to proceed with stricter regulation using its existing CAA authority. EPA could proceed without any Congressional action.

Even though EPA's Tailoring Rule was upheld, the Agency will be forced to slowly ratchet down over time the permitting threshold.  Unless Congress acts, EPA will be forced to require permits from more and more sources, including smaller commercial buildings.

EPA is also likely to follow with additional GHG regulations.  EPA will likely adopt new GHG emission threshold standards for major source categories.  It is even possible that EPA will implement National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for regulation of GHGs.  Use of the NAAQS could force each of the states to adopt there own GHG regulations on sources.

While EPA marches forward with complex GHG regulations, as things stand, it appears the Court is right in its prediction that Congress will not take action.    Any sort of  cap and trade bill appears dead. With the division between Republicans and Democrats over the issue, it appears Congressional reform of the CAA to better fit GHG regulation is highly unlikely.

EPA Decides Not to Ratchet Down Federal Permitting Thresholds for Greenhouse Gases

On February 24th, U.S. EPA announced that it would keep in tact the greenhouse gas (GHGs) thresholds for when federal permitting requirements would be triggered.  In announcing that it would not ratchet down the trigger thresholds, EPA said state permitting authorities need more time to develop proper infrastructure as well as expertise in GHG permitting.

Under EPA's Tailoring Rule, EPA put in place much higher thresholds for when federal permitting would be triggered than appear in the Clean Air Act.  The Act says any source with emissions of a regulated pollutant of 100/250 tons per year (tpy) should obtain a federal permit.  This threshold would apply to GHGs but for the Tailoring Rule.

EPA said that applying 100/250 tpy triggers would result in hundreds of thousands of federal permits.  Therefore, to avoid these "absurd results" EPA relaxed the standard through the Tailoring Rule.  Step 1 of the Tailoring Rule applied to sources that trigger federal permitting anyway.  Step 2 instituted a 100,000 tpy threshold for GHGs emitting from new sources and existing sources and any increase of 75,000 tpy of GHGs from existing sources would trigger permitting.

In Step 3 of the Tailoring Rule EPA was to examine the progress the states made in implementing the new trigger thresholds for GHGs.  EPA said it would consider whether to lower the threshold to 50,000 tpy. 

EPA's Step 3 Keeps 100,000 TPY and 75,000 TPY Triggers in Place

Under EPA's proposed Step 3 rule, new facilities with GHGs emissions of 100,000 tons per year (tpy) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) will be required to obtain a federal air permit (known as a "PSD permit").  Existing facilities that emit 100,000 tpy of CO2e and make changes that increase the GHG emission by at least 75,000 tpy CO2e will also trigger a PSD permit. Facilities that must obtain a PSD permit anyway in order to include other regulated pollutants, must also address GHG emission increases of 75,000 tpy or more of CO2e. New and existing sources with GHG emissions above 100,000 tpy CO2e must also obtain operating permits.

The proposal is in the 45 day public comment period after it is published in the federal register.  There will also be a public hearing on March 20, 2012.

EPA's Walks Tightrope in Administering the Tailoring Rue

In my last post, I discussed the current legal challenge to EPA's climate change regulations, including the Tailoring Rule.  I pointed out that the challenge to the Tailoring Rule is the most likely to succeed because EPA claims it can re-write a statute (the Clean Air Act) through regulation.

In arguing it has the authority to change the trigger standards in the Clean Air Act through rulemaking, EPA points to the legal theory that applying the statutory thresholds (100/250 tpy) would result in absurd results- thousands of permits that would flood both EPA and the states. 

The tightrope EPA is walking is that, even if it has the legal authority to support the Tailoring Rule, it must still eventually ratchet down the GHG triggers to 100/250 tpy.  In an election year, it was highly unlikely EPA would have moved the thresholds down to 50,000 tpy of CO2e in Step 3 of the Tailoring Rule as EPA previously suggested it might do. 

EPA made the right choice.  However, EPA action comes at the same time when the Tailoring Rule is being challenged in federal court.  The Court may be less likely to buy EPA's argument that it will get to the 100/250 thresholds eventually when it decided to keep in place the initial thresholds and not demonstrate progress toward reaching the statutory thresholds.. 
 

Court Hears Two Days of Oral Argument over the Future of Climate Change Regulation

The future direction of climate change regulation in the United States will turn on the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Court of Columbia (D.C. Circuit) following two days of oral argument.  A decision is expected as soon as this June..  There is no doubt that this may be the most significant environmental decision since the Supreme Court's ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA in which the Court determined CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) were a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act.

EPA Climate Change Strategy

Following the Supreme Court's decision, EPA launched a major regulatory effort pertaining to control and reduction of greenhouse gases. Those regulations include:

  • Endangerment Finding-  EPA's determination that GHGs are a threat to public health and welfare and, therefore, should be regulated under the Clean Air Act
  • Tailpipe Rule- establishes GHG emission standards for light-duty vehicles
  • Application of GHG to federal permitting requirements- inclusion of GHGs as a pollutant to be considered in federal permitting such as New Source Review (NSR)
  • "Tailoring Rule"-  EPA's attempt to reduce the number of sources covered under the federal permitting requirements for GHGs by raising the trigger thresholds

All of the industry challenges to U.S. EPA's major rulemaking efforts were consolidated into a single appeal- Coalition for Responsible Regulation Inc. v. EPA.  The coalition includes oil & gas, manufacturing, construction, chemical industry, other industry and select states. 

The two most significant challenges relate to the Endangerment Finding and EPA's Tailoring Rule.

Argument Involving the Endangerment Finding

In order for EPA to regulate GHGs through tailpipe emission standards, the Agency first had to make the determination that GHGs threaten public health and welfare. (i.e. the "Endangerment Finding").  The Coalition challenged EPA finding which goes to the core of whether EPA should be regulating GHGs under the Clean Air Act.

Comments from the Judges during the argument would suggest that industry has an uphill battle in successfully challenging EPA's decision. 

The attorney representing the Chamber argued that EPA should have considered the fact that people will simply adapt by migrating to cooler climates.  He argued that if people migrate there may be no danger to public health. 

Judge Tatel responded "How can the they [EPA] predict that migration patterns would be sufficient to overcome danger."  He also suggested that under the theory offered, EPA shouldn't regulate pollutants as a carcinogen because some day there may be a cure for cancer.

 It seems unlikely the Court is going to second guess the Agency's evaluation of the science behind the endangerment finding.

Arguments over Tailoring Rule

 If the challenge to the Endangerment finding goes at the science behind EPA's regulations, the challenge to EPA's tailoring rule goes to how the Agency proposes to implement its regulations.  As discussed on this blog before, while the challenge to EPA Tailoring Rule may be strong, it is a high-stakes gamble due to the uncertainty if the Coalition wins.

The argument is strong because the Clean Air Act itself contains the trigger for when a emissions of a pollutant are high enough to fall under federal air permitting regulations such as NSR.  The standard is 250 tons per year.

If 250 tons per year were to be applied to GHGs, thousands of sources would be regulated.  Even office buildings could require a federal air permit due to their energy use. 

EPA recognizing the "absurd" results of using the 250 ton per year threshold for GHGs, tailored the trigger level through rulemaking.  EPA said it will only initially regulate sources that emit between 75,000 to 100,000 tons per year of GHGs.  EPA said overtime it would slowly ratchet down the trigger level through rulemaking until it is in sync with the 250 tons per year standard appearing in the Clean Air Act.

The Coalition lawyers argued that EPA's attempt to re-write the Clean Air Act was clear evidence the Act was not suited to regulate GHGs.  The Coalition argued the EPA re-write was illegal and should be thrown out.

Judge Sentelle said in response " The harm you allege is regulatory burden.  The remedy you seek is a heavier regulatory burden.  That doesn't even make good nonsense."

High Stakes Gamble

The Coalition may be on the right side of the law when it says EPA does not have the power to rewrite the Clean Air Act.  However, they are gambling that this will force Congress to Act to address the Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA.  The Coalition wants Congress to remove GHGs as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.

With gridlock in Washington it just seems very unlikely that this will happen.  What could be left if the challenge to EPA's Tailoring Rule is successful, is a 250 ton per year standard that applies to GHGs.  This is something even the EPA was desperately trying to avoid.

 

As Dust Settles After Ozone Announcement the States Emerge as the Big Winners

The Obama Administration had already delayed issuance of a revised ozone standard three times.  EPA had said repeatedly that it would it would finally promulgate the new standard by this  August.  Then last week, President Obama shocked many by announcing that EPA would not issue a new ozone standard until 2013.

A Little History on Ozone

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is required to review the ozone standard every five years.   In 2008, the Bush Administration set the new ozone limit at 75 parts per billion (ppb). That was tighter than the existing regulations, but considerably weaker than the 60 to 70 ppb recommended  by the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee (CASAC- a science advisory panel which advises EPA in settings National Ambient Air Quality Standards).

Litigation ensued over the Bush standard.  However, a cease fire was called when the Obama Administration took office and called the 75 ppb indefensible.  The EPA promised to revisit the standard and set it somewhere between the 60 to 70 ppb recommended by CASAC.

Since EPA made its early pronouncements, the economy has not improved causing the EPA to delay issuance of a new standard on three different occasions.  The final arbitrary deadline was set for this August to finally announce the new standard.  But on the eve of the announcement, the Obama Administration issued a statement that it would wait until 2013 to review the standard.

Internet Blisters with Commentary

The media and internet has been awash in debate regarding the delay in the ozone standard.   Time wrote a piece titled "Is President Obama Bad for the Environment."  The backlash from environmental groups and clean air advocates has been dramatic. Industry has heralded the decision.  Here is a sampling from the various perspectives:

  • MoveOn.org said they don't know how they can support the President's re-election after such an announcement. 
  • Sierra Club- "Had the EPA smog pollution regulations come into effect as anticipated, it would have prevented 12,000 deaths, 5,300 heart attacks, and tens of thousands of asthma attacks.  Its time we stop pitting the false promise of jobs from a desperate-albeit wealthy and powerful-industry against the best interests of the American People."
  • National Petrochemical & Refiners Association- "President Obama acted in the best interests of the American people last Friday when he blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing unrealistic, unjustified and unneeded new ozone standards on our nation. The president should now follow up by stopping EPA from imposing other extreme regulations that will cost our economy billions of dollars and wipe out millions of American jobs, without providing any significant environmental benefits."
  • Business Roundtable-  Calls the ozone standard the single most expensive environmental regulation in U.S. History.  In an op-ed piece, Governor Engler says that 85% of U.S. counties would be in "nonattainment" with the new standard triggering a cascade of federal and state controls.  EPA estimates the new standards could cost between $20 to $90 billion annually.

For some additional perspectives on both sides of the debate I would recommend reviewing the National Law Journal's Energy & Environment Blog- "Sizing Up Obama's Ozone Standard Delay"

Implications for Ohio

In my former role as Director of Ohio EPA, I got to see first hand how the state's dealt with meeting new federal air quality standards, including the ozone standard.  From that experience I concur with the business groups who were concerned with the new standard's impacts on a struggling economy.  This is particularly true for states like Ohio with high population, heavy reliance on manufacturing and where coal is the main source of power generation.

A "nonattainment" designation for a metropolitan area is a massive impediment to economic development.  Particularly metropolitan areas that rely on a growing manufacturing base to attract new jobs.   Air permitting requirements under nonattainment New Source Review places these areas at a competitive disadvantage to areas that meet the standard. 

Even more importantly, I learned that the states, in reality, have far less ability to institute regulations that reduce smog then the federal EPA.  This is because much of the nonattainment problem is attributable to interstate pollution.  Also, much of it comes from vehicles for which there is very little ability to reduce emissions through state regulation. The last decade has demonstrated that federal regulations directed at vehicles and interstate pollution are much more effective in reducing ozone levels than negligible benefits achieved through state regulation.

Existing Federal Regulations Will Continue to Reap Clean Air Benefits

While new state air pollution regulations have little impact in improving air quality, federal regulations have resulted in dramatic improvements.  Areas that five years ago were thought never to reach attainment with the old 1997 ozone standard (like Cleveland) have been able to reach attainment.

Here is a chart of exceedences of the ozone standard in Ohio going back to 2000.  Recently, there are no exceedences of the old 1-hr standard (.0125 ppm) and very few of the 1997 8-hr standard. Over the last five years the major benefits of the federal air regulations discussed above have been realized.

However, what is not shown is the number of exceedences that would occur under a 8-hr standard within the CASAC range of .070 to .060 ppm.  It would be pretty dramatic.

These existing federal regulations will continue to improve air quality because they are phased in over time.  These regulations include:

All of these federal air regulations will continue to be phased in greatly reducing the precursors that lead to the creation of ozone (smog). The full benefit of some of these major regulations won't be seen for another 20 years as the vehicle fleet turns over.  In addition,  CSAPR is just on the books and will dramatically reduce power plant pollution.

Bottomline- Air Quality Improves While States Get Some Breathing Room

Even though the ozone standard will not be revised until 2013, air quality will continue to  improve as a result of these major federal air quality regulations.  Meanwhile, the states will not be saddled with non-attainment designations under a new standard during a tough economic period. 

When the ozone standard is revised, the States will have benefited from the greater reductions achieved from these federal regulations. These air quality benefits will make it much more realistic that the states can achieve the new standard. 

 

EPA's Delay Tactic Avoids Real Change

On Monday, EPA announced it was delaying its proposed rules that would apply greenhouse gas emission standards to power plants. EPA said it would push the proposal back from July to September to allow more time to consider comments. EPA still expects to finalize the rule by May 2012.  

Its no secret that EPA regulations have been the focus of intense scrutiny due to the costs and the potential impacts on the country's struggling economic recovery.  Over the last several months EPA has delayed rule after rule.  The delays include:

  • Greenhouse gas rules for power plants (NSPS)
  • Industrial/Commercial boiler rule (MACT)
  • Ozone Federal Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)
  • Fine Particle Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)

Each time EPA delays one of the major rules, it claims the delay is to consider more information or to allow for more public comment.  Yet the frequency of the announced delays coupled with the timing suggests the Obama Administration is concerned with protecting the fragile economic recovery or it is simply responding to intense political pressure.

Debate Pitting Economy Versus the Environment Intensifies

EPA's regulatory actions are under intense pressure on Capitol Hill.  Republicans and some conservative Democrats have targeted the EPA rules, in particular those that impact power plants due to their potential to raise energy prices or de-rail the recovery. 

While the announced delays may temporarily reduce the pressure on the Agency, in reality the delays have done nothing to cool down the rhetoric used on both sides.  For example, Lisa Jackson testified before the Senate and disparaged lobbyists who had advocated against the new EPA rules:

“While Americans across the country suffer from this pollution, special interests who are trying to gut long-standing public health protections are now going so far as to claim that these pollutants aren't even harmful. These myths are being perpetrated by some of the same lobbyists who have in the past testified before Congress about the importance of reducing mercury and particulate matter. Now on behalf of their clients, they're saying the exact opposite.”

On the other side, AEP highlighted potential impacts to the economy last week by announcing the potential closure of a number of power plants and huge new compliance costs if the EPA rules moved forward.  AEP said it would retire nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fueled power generation and switch to natural gas at many of its plants at an estimated cost of $6 billion to $8 billion by the end of the decade.This from a Press Release issued by AEP:

"We have worked for months to develop a compliance plan that will mitigate the impact of these rules for our customers and preserve jobs, but because of the unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals, we will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit and replace coal-fueled power plants. The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling,” said Michael G. Morris, AEP chairman and chief executive officer.

EPA Delays Are Simply a Pyrrhic Victory

Each time EPA announces a delay, the Agency claims it will take a second look at its proposals.  Yet, EPA seems very unlikely to make any fundamental changes.  While some may view the announced delays as victories, it is only so long before either the rules will be released by EPA or  EPA will be compelled by the courts to act. 

A popular political strategy has been to attack the science behind EPA's proposals in hopes of deflecting the proposal entirely.  This "all or nothing" approach is unlikely to ultimately succeed given the 60 votes needed in the Senate to make changes to the statutes that shape the rules. 

Rather than challenge the science in hopes of avoiding regulations altogether, it would be good to see meaningful policy discussion around the regulatory approach behind these major proposals:

  1. Ozone and Fine Particle-  Time frames for compliance need to be reasonable and should be properly coordinated with existing federal rules that will drive down emissions.  Also, as our air gets cleaner, improvements become more difficult.  Do we cross a threshold where costs should be part of the equation in setting standards? 
  2. Greenhouse gas-  Application of the New Source Review program to greenhouse gas emissions is a recipe for disaster.  While Cap and Trade became a dirty word, it offered a far more flexible approach than command and control regulations.
  3. Commercial/Industrial Boilers-  EPA's method for establishing the standards was based upon cherry picking the best emission rates for each individual pollutant from units across the country.  A real effort needs to be made at looking at what is realistically achievable.

Unfortunately, meaningful discussion seems unlikely in today's political environment. 

EPA's Self- Assessment of Regulatory Improvements Misses a Golden Opportunity

Back on January 18th President Obama issued Executive Order 13563 requiring federal agencies to consider the impacts of new regulations and to perform a self assessment of existing regulations.  For existing regulations, the President requested the agencies perform an analysis to determine whether rules are "outmoded, ineffective, insufficient, or excessively burdensome." 

After performing self-examinations, each agency was ordered to do the following:

"Within 120 days of the date of this order, each agency shall develop
and submit to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs a preliminary
plan,..to determine whether any such regulations should be modified, streamlined, expanded, or repealed so as to make the agency’s regulatory program more effective or less burdensome in achieving the regulatory objectives." (emphasis added)

On May 24th, U.S. EPA issued its preliminary plan, titled "Improving Our Regulations:  A Preliminary Plan for Periodic Retrospective Reviews of Existing Regulations."   EPAs preliminary plan falls way short of the goals articulated in the President's Order. 

Specifically, the preliminary plan calls for very little review of existing regulations to determine if they should be modified or repealed.  In fact, the EPA's plan in some cases calls for new regulations, including:

  • SSO Blending Rule
  • MACT Rules to "reduce emissions through the use of technologies and practices to achieve multiple benefits"

In other cases, EPA calls for additional rules to "clarify" or "streamline" requirements.  Often efforts to clarify simply mean additional regulations increasing complexity:

  • Water Quality standards- EPA intends to clarify antidegredation and  variance provisions, among other requirements;
  • Clean Air Act Title V-  streamline by use of electronic filings

What is missing from EPA's proposal is an acknowledgment that some key regulatory programs should be reviewed to determine if there is simply a more efficient and effective way to achieve the same goals.  Or, whether some regulations are outdated.

EPA Should Listen to the Business Community in Developing its Plan

The President's Order only gave U.S. EPA 120 days to develop a preliminary plan.  That did not leave much time for public input prior to development of the plan.  The EPA's plan is open for public comment until June 27th.  Click here to an EPA link to comment on the plan

Because EPA has already developed its plan pursuant to the Order its much harder to make wholesale changes to plan that is already in writing.  More than likely, EPA will tweak the existing plan some based on the comments it receives.

However, by simply packaging some existing tweaks to rules and policies as its regulatory analysis EPA is simply playing around the edges.  EPA is missing a golden opportunity to look at fundamentally overhauling its more complex and controversial rules.  While I believe there are multiple examples of regulations that deserve a complete overhaul, I think one particular program serves as a shining example: 

New Source Review-  The NSR program is highly complex.   It also involves far too much subjectivity.  Courts have reached vastly different conclusions regarding whether NSR was triggered in cases involving very similar projects and fact patterns.  To make matters worse, NSR has recently been applied to greenhouse gases which raises dramatically the impact of the program.  Perhaps no EPA program symbolizes more the frustration of the regulated community and is in serious need of review/overhaul.

 

Congress Attempts to Block EPA GHG Power; Ohio Moves Forward

As discussed in the Wall Street Journal, it didn't take long before a flurry of bills were introduced in Congress to stop EPA from moving forward with its controversial greenhouse gas (GHGs) regulations.  After passage of the deal to extend Bush era tax cuts, halting EPA efforts is seen as the next major action needed to continue the nation's economic recovery.

All the bills are aimed at either stripping or delaying EPA's ability to regulate GHGs under the Clean Air Act.  Here is a summary from the Wall Street Journal:

It has been just one day since the start of the new Congress and lawmakers have already introduced at least four bills to cripple or altogether block the administration from working on greenhouse-gas standards.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) got the ball rolling in the U.S. Senate Thursday with a bill that prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing its greenhouse-gas requirements for two years.

Meanwhile, in the House, Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) proposed a bill Wednesday that blocks the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

Rep. Ted Poe (R., Texas) introduced legislation that same day that prevents the EPA from receiving funding for any type of cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases.

On Thursday, Rep. Shelley Moore Capitol (R., W.Va.) announced a bill to suspend the EPA's work on greenhouse gases for two years.

Ohio Signs Emergency Rules to Prevent Regulation of Small Sources

While Congress tries to block EPA, Ohio has moved forward with implementation of the EPA rules at the State level.  On December 30th, Governor Strickland signed emergency rules which will be effective for 90 days to essentially adopt U.S. EPA's Tailoring Rule.  The Tailoring Rule raises the trigger level for federal permitting as a result of GHG emissions from levels in the Clean Air Act of 100/250 tons per year to 75,000 tons per year for GHGs.

Strickland and Governor-Elect John Kasich received letters of support for this rule package from major Ohio employers, such as: Ohio Chemistry Technology Council, Procter & Gamble, BASF Chemical Company, Lubrizol, AEP, INEOS ABS Corp., GFS Chemicals, Capital Resin Corporation, Americas Styrenics, Dover Chemical Corp., and ISP. 

By enacting the rules, the trigger threshold has been raised so that only very large sources of GHGs face the new permitting requirements.  Without the rules, Ohio would arguably have had more stringent standards and could potentially have required to seek federal permits from thousands of sources.

To read the executive order, emergency rules or the industry support letters click here.

EPA BACT Guidance for GHGs- Tough Sledding for First Permits

As Congress failed to pass climate change legislation, U.S. EPA will begin regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs) using its existing authority under the Clean Air Act.  Beginning 2011, major sources of GHGs will be required to analyze methods for reducing emissions when seeking federal permits for expansion or construction of new sources. 

When is a federal review of GHGs triggered?

Under the Tailoring Rule, U.S. EPA established thresholds for triggering federal permit review of GHGs from new and modified sources.  Initially, only the largest sources will be covered.  The newly released guidance document contains these useful tables:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you trigger a review of GHGs under the federal air permit program (PSD permit), then the permitting agency must determine what the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) is to reduce emission of GHGs for that source. 

Complex Case-By-Case Process Will Prove Very Difficult

Selecting BACT is no easy process. BACT reviews can become the black box of permitting.  It includes a highly complex review of all existing technologies to reduce emissions and their potential application to the source.  A business may propose what they think BACT should be, however, they have no assurance the permitting agency will concur with their choice. 

US EPA's PSD GHG guidance states all available emission reduction options for GHGs should be reviewed.  Once the options are identified, they should be evaluated based upon the following elements:

  • technical feasibility;
  • cost and other economic considerations;
  • environmental and energy considerations.  

The permitting agency performing the review should narrow the options and select the most appropriate technology or combination of technologies from the list.  This case-by-case determination provides no certainty to industry.  This is especially true for the first permits that will trigger the review. 

No Benchmarks for First Permits

With other pollutants (SO2, NOx, CO, etc.) that have long been subject to BACT review, U.S. EPA has assembled a database of permitting actions that identify technology as well as emission limits.  This database is referred to at the BACT/RACT/LAER Clearinghouse.  U.S. EPA directs permit reviewers to consult the Clearinghouse as a first step. 

With GHGs, the Clearinghouse will provide little assistance.  There will simply be no other permits issued for similar sources that will allow permit reviewers to compare determinations.  With no benchmarks, permit reviewers will be guessing at BACT. 

U.S. EPA has released white papers on available and emerging technologies for specific industry sectors.  However, these are simply laundry lists of technologies.  Until the Clearinghouse is populated, permit reviewers will have no ability to benchmark their determinations. 

 

US EPA Attempts to Ease Transition to Greenhouse Gas Regulation for Large Sources

On August 12th, the U.S .EPA released two proposed rules to address the potential gap that exists while States adopt rules to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) from large stationary sources. What U.S. EPA is really doing is making sure all fifty states will be regulating GHGs beginning January 2011.

On May 12, 2010, U.S. EPA finalized its controversial Tailoring Rule, which raised the trigger level for federal permitting associated with GHG emissions.  Unless the U.S. EPA raised the trigger levels from 100/250 tons per year, very small sources would have required federal permits. The Tailoring Rule is U.S. EPA's attempt to phase in GHG, beginning with only very large sources.

Beginning 2011, very large stationary sources of GHGs (like power plants and oil refineries) will need to address GHGs emissions when seeking permits for expansion or new facilities. For the first time, these sources will need to meet Best Available Control Technology (BACT) standards under the Agency's New Source Review Program to control or reduce GHG emissions.

Thirty-Seven (37) states, including Ohio, operate U.S. EPA approved air permitting programs.  State approved programs cannot be "less stringent" than U.S. EPA regulations.  Therefore, when U.S. EPA adopts new standards, States are required to incorporate those standards into their programs. 

However, each State has its own rulemaking process.  U.S. EPA recognized that some states may not be able to complete the rulemaking process to incorporate GHG regulations prior to 2011. Therefore, the August 12th proposal is EPA's attempt to create a backstop rule should states fail to complete their rulemaking process.  The backstop is referred to as a "federal implementation plan" or FIP.  It really means U.S. EPA would temporarily take over permitting functions for sources above the GHG trigger levels in the Tailoring Rule. 

Ohio doesn't like the prospect of U.S. EPA imposing the FIP.  If the FIP is imposed U.S. EPA would temporarily issue PSD permits in Ohio until the State finalizes its rules.  Ohio has released its proposed modifications to incorporate the Tailoring Rule into Ohio EPA's regulations to try and avoid U.S. EPA direct involvement in its permitting program.
 

Another New Source Review Decision Highlights Inconsistencies

On March 31st, a Federal District Court in Tennessee (6th Circuit) issued the latest decision in relation to litigation stemming from New Source Review (NSR) enforcement actions against electric coal fired utilities.  The TVA Bull Run decision is another example of the inconsistent application of the test for determining when projects trigger NSR.

The NSR regulatory program continues to serve as the best example of poorly drafted or applied environmental regulations that has major implications for business and industry.  Clear standards and well drafted rulemaking should always be the highest priority for EPA.  Otherwise, businesses are treated in an inconsistent manner and EPA simply looks bad.

Similar to other NSR enforcement actions against coal-fired utilities, the TVA case turned on whether the Routine Maintenance, Repair and Replacement (RMRR) exception covered the projects at issue.  Simply put, if the projects are viewed as routine, the RMRR exception applies and NSR will not be triggered.

The two main projects at issue were:

  1. Replacement of an economizer to reduce forced outages related to tube leaks
  2. Replacement and repair related to tubing associated with the superheater which super heats steam at the plant

What makes this case interesting is that its not the first time these types of projects have been evaluated by the federal courts in determining whether RMRR applies.  In evaluating these projects under the NSR test, Courts have reached opposite conclusions.  A finding NSR is triggered can subject a utility to billions in pollution equipment upgrades and penalties, so you would think consistency would be very important.

Determining whether RMRR exception applies, involves analysis of the following factors:

  • Nature and extent of project
  • Purpose
  • Frequency of these types of repairs (is it routine)
  • Cost of the project

Whether the RMRR exception covers a project has turned on whether the Court hearing the case applies the factors above relative to the specific emission unit or the industry as a whole.  For example, application of the factor known as frequency of repair- should the factor be viewed as how frequently the repair occurred on the specific unit or the frequency it occurred on similar units throughout industry?

The significant differences in opinion over the basic application of the test for RMRR has led to completely inconsistent holdings.  While TVA found RMRR covered the projects, two other federal courts (Ohio Edison and Sierra Club v. Morgan) have found similar projects, including economizer replacement projects, did not fall within RMRR.

The inconsistent rulings have created a significant competitive advantage to those businesses that find themselves lucky enough to operate in a jurisdiction where Courts take a broader view of RMRR.  How can such a major split in the federal case law persist? And more importantly, how can the NSR federal regulations be deemed clear when multiple federal courts have reached opposite conclusions?

 

Climate Regulation Update: Cap and Trade Unlikely; Regulation a Certainty

I was giving a speech to a trade association last night regarding Cap and Trade legislation in Congress.  The sentiment of most participants in this manufacturing group was that they had dodged a major bullet because passage of a bill looks very unlikely.  While that is true, I told the audience don't lose sight of the fact regulations are coming even without a bill in Congress.  This took many of the members by surprise. 

Here is how the battle over climate change regulation is currently unfolding...

While the Senate continues to try and reach a compromise over Cap and Trade legislation that could garner 60 votes, most observers are now saying passage is very unlikely.   A range of reasons are cited for the diminishing chances for a Senate bill:

  • Loss of the "super" majority with the Massachusetts Senate race- although 60 Democrats were not going to vote for this bill, it is one less vote.  This from Reuters:
  • From a purely numerical perspective, the Massachusetts election makes only a marginal difference. With the real division running through the centre of the Democratic Party, rather than between the parties, cap-and-trade was never going to pass on a 60-40 party-line vote. It was always going to need at least some Republican votes. So the loss of one Democrat makes only a small difference.

  • Hard fought legislative battles over health care reform diminishes any potential compromise between Republicans and Democrats
  • Failure in Copenhagen to reach a global consensus on climate action
  • Health care, financial reform and jobs being much higher legislative priorities
  • "Climategate"- the uncovering of unflattering e-mails by climatologists

Pick any combination of the items above and a strong case can be made that cap and trade will not emerge in 2010 or in the near future.   A recent New York Times Article  does a great job describing how the battle has shifted from Congress to the halls of U.S. EPA.

EPA in March is expected to roll out the first-ever federal standards affecting greenhouse gas emissions from automobile tailpipes. This follows the agency's move in December declaring greenhouse gases a danger to public health. The tailpipe standards would automatically trigger requirements that stationary sources -- such as power plants -- install "best available control technology," or BACT, according to EPA. The agency has proposed a separate rule to shield smaller facilities from those requirements, the "tailoring rule," which is also expected to be in place by March.

As set forth above, the dominoes are falling leading to full blown regulation of greenhouse gases using EPA's existing authority under the Clean Air Act.  The regulations have progressed as follows:

  1. Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Rule- EPA has already finalized mandatory reporting for large source (25,000 metric tons).  Sources must start tracking emissions this year.
  2. Endagerment Finding-  EPA finalized its finding that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles endanger human health and the environment.  This was a pre-requisite to issuance of its Light Duty Vehicle greenhouse gas standards.
  3. Light Duty Vehicle GHG Standards-  EPA has stated in prior rule packages that it expects to finalize this rule this March.  This will be the first rule establishing actual emission limits for greenhouse gases.  Once mandatory emission limits are established for vehicles, the Clean Air Act automatically requires certain provisions will apply to all other sources.   New Source Review (NSR) will be triggered by emissions of greenhouse gases.
  4. GHG Tailoring Rule-  This is EPA's effort to change the triggers for NSR to fit GHG emissions.  Without this rule very small sources would trigger federal air permitting requirements.

As EPA marches toward full blown regulation, attention shifts back to the Senate where a major battle over an amendment to block EPA's efforts is about to take place.  This from Environmental Leader:

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is expected to introduce an amendment that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) under the Clean Air Act, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Murkowski will either try to block the EPA by seeking an amendment to an unrelated debt bill due to go to vote on Jan. 20 or she will seek a resolution of disapproval, which would not be subject to filibuster and only need 51 votes to pass, reports the Guardian. She has the support of 34 Republicans and is reaching out to Democrats, according to the article.

Its going to be very difficult to find another seventeen votes to support the measure in the Senate.  Therefore, businesses must be prepared for the major EPA's greenhouse regulations in March.  Its a good time to be assessing your businesses exposure and risks using the proposed thresholds.   
 

EPA "Endangerment Finding" Sets in Motion Regulation of Greenhouse Gases

Today, a day that will likely live in environmental law infamy....the EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson finalized the "endangerment finding" in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in EPA v. Massachusetts which was issued way back in April 2, 2007.  While the Supreme Court found that greenhouse gases were air pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act, it did not say the Act mandated regulation.  Rather, the Court said EPA was required to make additional findings regarding the danger presented by greenhouse gases before regulations would kick in. 

The magic language for emission standards from motor vehicles appears in Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act.  Under Section 202(a), EPA is required to determine whether or not emissions of greenhouse gases from new motor vehicles cause or contribute to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare (so called "endangerment finding").   If EPA makes a positive finding- meaning emissions endanger public health and welfare- it then promulgate greenhouse gas emission standards for motor vehicles.  Today, the Administrator made an positive determination.

Today's major announcement is the necessary precursor to mandatory emission standards for vehicles.  More importantly, it sets in motion regulation of greenhouse gases from all sources, not just motor vehicles.   Here are the steps that lead to that result:

  1. Positive "endangerment finding"
  2. Finalize regulations setting emission standards from motor vehicles- March 2010?
  3. Greenhouse gases (GHGs) become a "regulated pollutant" under the Clean Air Act- once a "regulated pollutant" other regulations in the Clean Air Act are automatically triggered.
  4. Most notably, on the same day vehicle standards are finalized, New Source Review (NSR) standards would include review of emissions of GHGs from new or expanding sources.  No new regulatory action is required for NSR to apply to GHGs, it will automatically happen.

EPA realizes the process that has been set in motion for much broader regulations which is why it proposed the Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule in the Fall. (see prior post, EPA Risky Climate Change Regulatory Approach) The Tailoring Rule attempts to temporarily reduce the scope of the NSR program to only larger emission sources of GHGs. 

Now that a positive endangerment finding has been finalized, broad GHG regulation is absolutely inevitable.  Short of Congressional action, the existing Clean Air Act will be used to regulate GHG emissions.  An outcome, even the EPA itself has said it does not prefer.  Note the press release from EPA:

President Obama and Administrator Jackson have publicly stated that they support a legislative solution to the problem of climate change and Congress’ efforts to pass comprehensive climate legislation. However, climate change is threatening public health and welfare, and it is critical that EPA fulfill its obligation to respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that determined that greenhouse gases fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. 
 

Congressional refusal to act swiftly on climate change legislation is putting us dangerously close to a chaotic regulatory scheme under existing Clean Air Act authority.  In fact, as noted above, Congress has to act to take us off the path.  Refusing to act, in order to blame President Obama is too large a price to pay to score a few political points. 

EPA Begins Process of Determining BACT for CO2

U.S. EPA has initiated the process for determining what controls it will require should it finalize its proposal to regulate large industrial sources of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  As discussed in a prior post, the first phase of the program would cover sources emitting more than 25,000 tons of CO2 or equivalent emissions.  In subsequent phases of the program smaller sources would likely be covered.

Under EPA's proposal GHGs would become a pollutant covered under its New Source Review (NSR) program.  NSR requires new or modified sources that emit over established thresholds to install Best Available Control Technology (BACT).  The question is...what are the "best available" controls for reducing GHG emissions? 

I was interviewed for a story appearing in Climatewire that discussed the complexities involving in determining BACT for GHGs.  Unlike many mainstream media newspaper articles, the Climatewire article does an excellent job of providing an analysis of the issues related to implementation of this complex regulatory program. 

Two major issues:

  1. What is BACT going to be for non-utility pollution sources? 
  2. How on earth will EPA determine BACT for a wide variety of sources by its stated deadline of March 2010?

Efficiency improvements co-firing biomass are the two most likely candidates for utility sources.  But less analysis is known regarding potential methods to reduce GHGs emissions from other potentially covered sources like cement and steel production facilities. 

The preamble to U.S. EPA's proposed NSR GHG regulations makes clear the Agency believe the rules must be finalized by March 2010 because they must coincide with the rule regulating GHGs from light duty vehicles.  It seems like an impossible task to determine BACT for the range of sources that will be potentially covered in less than six (6) months.   Without established BACT standards, there is likely to be massive uncertainty and delays in permitting. 

[A complete re-printing of the Climatewire article is available in the extended entry with their permission]

photo: everystockphoto- cjohnson7

 

An E&E Publishing Service

REGULATION: EPA struggles to define best carbon-reducing technologies (Friday, October 9, 2009)

Jessica Leber, E&E reporter

With U.S. EPA set to soon regulate greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial sources, the biggest question -- what exactly that means -- is still far from an answer.

In late September, the agency issued its controversial proposal to include greenhouse gases, for the first time, in Clean Air Act permits for major new stationary pollution sources.

Under the rule, permits for new industrial facilities that release more than 25,000 tons of emissions a year would require what's termed "best available control technology" (BACT) to limit their greenhouse gas releases. And when existing facilities make major upgrades that trigger permit reviews, they, too, would have to meet BACT requirements.

But with carbon capture and sequestration still years from commercial viability, how BACT will be defined is up in the air. "There's no add-on, magic technology widget thingy that controls CO2," said David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club's chief climate counsel.

Absent a widget, EPA's proposal leaves the BACT question open to discussion. When the rule takes effect, EPA will have to issue guidance to state and regional permitting authorities, which ultimately evaluate each permit on a case-by-case basis.

"We don't want to have a judgment yet going into this," said Peter Tsirigotis, director of the sector policies and programs division within EPA's air office. "Now, we're just throwing a bunch of things out to the wall and seeing what sticks."

He spoke this week to the agency's Clean Air Act Advisory Committee, a panel of outside experts that is planning to complete its recommendations on the issue over the next six months.

A quick and complicated timetable

By the end of next March, EPA plans to finalize the first greenhouse gas standards for motor vehicles. To do that, the agency will have to officially declare these emissions pollutants under the law -- a finding that will force the agency to put rules in place for industrial sources, as well. That means that by as soon as next spring, applicants for new permits might need to consider their greenhouse gas emissions.

States will ultimately bear the responsibility to decide what technologies fit the bill. Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said states will be looking for EPA to issue clear and simple, legally consistent, up-to-date guidelines about what BACT is and what it is not.

"We are plowing new ground here," Becker said. "We will be under intense pressure to make decisions on a timely basis, because time is money for regulated sources."

The process for determining BACT is fraught with complications. For every individual permit, states need to consider the energy and environmental impacts and, most significantly, the cost of requiring pollution controls. Then permitting authorities weigh a spectrum of options -- from the Porsches of pollution control technologies to requiring nothing -- and determine what doesn't bust the bank account based on the price per ton of pollution avoided.

For conventional air pollutants, EPA runs a clearinghouse filled with real BACT examples in every region of the country, and for many types of sources, as a basis for comparison. "For carbon dioxide, you're going to have an empty clearinghouse right now," said Joe Koncelik, an environmental lawyer who represents various industries for Frantz Ward LLP.

Defining the undefined

And, of course, everyone has his own ideas about what makes up the menu of BACT options.

Energy efficiency is one that almost everyone agrees upon. The Bush administration, in its consideration of the issue last year, said that efficiency is one of the few potentially cost-effective carbon controls right now, according to Roger Martella, the agency's general counsel at the time. But the new administration, he said, may be willing to look at many more possibilities.

For the power sector, that might require power companies to consider co-firing with biomass or co-generating with waste heat, said Bookbinder. It also, he said, could mean that plants might need to consider switching fuels, from coal to natural gas, for example, or consider building new super-efficient, carbon-capture-ready facilities, such as integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) plants.

The latter option has already been subject to intense legal debate. At issue is whether EPA or states can make an applicant reconsider its entire plant design. "IGCC is a totally different process than a coal plant. It's a big chemical plant, in a way," said John Kinsman, a senior director for the environment at the Edison Electric Institute, a utility trade group.

EPA, he said, has never typically required an applicant to build a nuclear plant, for example, instead of a coal plant.

The question is still not settled. In a recent decision, EPA's Environmental Appeals Board sent the permit for the proposed Desert Rock Energy Facility, an embattled 1,500-megawatt pulverized coal power plant in New Mexico, back for review, in part because the agency did not at least consider an IGCC design. (E&ENews PM, Sept. 25).

BACT to the drawing boards

Determining carbon controls beyond the power sector may prove an even greater challenge. The new Clean Air Act requirements will apply to a whole host of sources, from steel manufacturers to cement kilns.

"Given the time frame, I don't see how EPA is going to determine what BACT is for whole sets of industry categories," said Koncelik.

Meanwhile, EPA and the advisory committee may also consider entirely new alternatives never discussed before. "The question is: How do we balance the need for a very quick solution with the opportunities that exist to encourage innovation?" said EPA's Tsirigotis.

That could mean allowing utilities to use energy demand reduction and response programs to meet BACT requirements, said Kinsman.

That could also mean allowing companies to buy carbon offsets instead of reducing their own emissions, an option that was raised for discussion at the advisory committee meetings this week.

Becker was wary of the offset option. For one, there would be major questions about whether offsets would even be legal.

Second, he said, allowing companies to purchase emission reductions in other areas of the country would ignore the air quality improvements that carbon-control technologies could provide. Increasing the efficiency of a boiler, for example, would also reduce other conventional air pollutants that only have regional effects.

The advisory committee this week agreed to look at innovative options, but not at the expense of immediately practical approaches. "What we very much don't want to have is a pie-in-the-sky, potentially illegal, recommendation that interferes with the committee reaching an agreement," Becker said.

Ultimately, experts agreed, the agency's first pass will be fought in the courts.

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About ClimateWire

ClimateWire is written and produced by the staff of E&E Publishing, LLC. It is designed to provide comprehensive, daily coverage of all aspects of climate change issues. From international agreements on carbon emissions to alternative energy technologies to state and federal GHG programs, ClimateWire plugs readers into the information they need to stay abreast of this sprawling, complex issue.

Copyright 2009, E&E Publishing, LLC. Reprinted with permission. www. ClimateWire.com

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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. 

Rumors Swirl that EPA May Apply New Source Review to Sources of Greenhouse Gases

As reported in BNA and referenced in Foley & Hoag's blog, EPA is rumored to be moving forward with application of New Source Review requirements to large sources of greenhouse gas emissions.  BNA reported that EPA would likely set a trigger level of 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalent emissions (other greenhouse gases converted into CO2 tons).  All sources emitting above this threshold would have to include Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Congress seems to face stronger head winds on passage of a cap & trade climate legislation.  Organizations like the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) have started a national advertising campaign targeting vulnerable Senators- such as Sherrod Brown in coal dependent Ohio.  NAM is using their recent study regarding the impact on energy prices of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) legislation to frame the debate as an energy tax increase. 

Missing in the strong opposition to cap & trade is the alternative- regulation of greenhouse gases under the existing authority of the Clean Air Act.  U.S. EPA has been in a holding pattern seemingly holding their collective breath that legislation will pass thereby avoiding a regulatory nightmare. However, with opposition growing perhaps EPA is starting see that it needs to raise the prospects of alternative regulatory schemes.  The timing of the proposal to included greenhouse gases under New Source Review would appear to support that view.

While the article states that EPA would apply NSR only to the largest sources of greenhouse gases (25,000 tons of CO2), EPA has questionable legal authority to limit application in this fashion.  The current statutory language in the Clean Air Act applies NSR to source emitting more than 250 tons of any pollutant.  EPA has said before it has no intention of setting the threshold that low.  However, that is what the Clean Air Act states is the applicable threshold.  Without legislation it certainly seems very questionable as whether EPA has the authority to alter statutory text through regulation.   

There appears no doubt that if cap & trade dies this fall that EPA will move forward with a positive endangerment finding and start to issue climate change regulations under its existing authority.  Yet the debate in Congress right now seems to be cap & trade versus no regulation.  EPA, businesses and environmental groups supporting ACES need to do a better job of framing the debate as- cap & trade versus command and control regulation under the Clean Air Act.   If more organizations engaged in the debate in a realistic manner, including NAM, the merits of cap & trade seem to be much greater.

As an indication we are still in the denial phase by some, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to put climate change on trial.  As reported on Yale 360:

Facing the prospect that the federal government may soon begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is proposing a public hearing in which the chamber and allied scientists question whether human-caused global warming is real. William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice-president for environment, technology, and regulatory affairs, is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold the rare public hearing, complete with witnesses, cross-examinations, and a judge who would rule whether man is indeed warming the planet.

This ignores the fact that we already had that trial in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in landmark case of Massachusetts v. EPA.  The Court found climate change to be real and recognized EPA's existing authority to regulated greenhouse gases.  This from the syllabus of the decision:

Based on respected scientific opinion that a well-documented rise in global temperatures and attendant climatological and environmental changes have resulted from a significant increase in the atmospheric concentration of “greenhouse gases,”

I wonder when the debate over cap & trade will start to honestly include a discussion of this legal reality?

(Photo: everystockphoto: cjohnson7)

What U.S. EPA's Formal Recognition of Cleveland's Improved Air Quality Means for Businesses

Yesterday, U.S. EPA announced a proposed rulemaking to formally recognize Cleveland and nearby counties as achieving the 1997 8-hour ozone standard (.085ppb).  As discussed in a previous post, this is very good news for Northeast Ohio businesses in any of the following counties: Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage, and Summit.  U.S. EPA is taking comments on the proposed action until July 13th.

Three years ago the best experts thought it was impossible for Northeast Ohio to achieve the ozone standard by the 2010 deadline.  As a result, draconian measures were suggested by U.S. EPA, including "bumping up" to the next higher non-attainment classification "serious."  Such an action would have made economic growth in the area much more difficult.  It would also have increased environmental compliance costs for area businesses. 

The chart to the left shows the various federal pollution reduction programs that are mandated based upon non-attainment classification.  The chart shows the higher the classification of non-attainment the more federal mandates that will apply.

Northeast Ohio has been at a distinct disadvantage relative to other areas of the state due to its ozone non-attainment status.  It is the only "moderate" non-attainment are in the State.  This results in increased compliance costs for area businesses and also placed restrictions on economic growth not applicable to the rest of the State.  These disadvantages would have been magnified if the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain area was forced to have "bumped up" to serious non-attainment.

Once U.S. EPA finalizes the redesignation to attainment, these disadvantage disappear.  Cleveland-Akron-Lorain will be able to compete equally for new business growth opportunities.  All of this should be really good news for business and the citizens in Northeast Ohio.

The Plain Dealer failed to capture this fact in its coverage of the U.S. EPA ozone announcement.  Instead it focused on the temporary nature of the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain attainment status.  U.S. EPA has adopted a stricter ozone standard (.075ppb) which will likely be applied in 2010.  Current air monitoring shows Northeast Ohio around .084 ppb for ozone which means the same eight counties will once again be deemed "non-attainment" for ozone.   

While it is true the attainment status is temporary, concentrating only on this aspect of the story misses the broader picture.  If the area failed to achieve the 1997 ozone standard it would have faced more regulation and impediments to growth.  Now it appears unlikely that Cleveland-Akron-Lorain will receive a higher non-attainment classification than other major metropolitan areas in the State.  This means it will be able to compete equally with Columbus and Cincinnati for new jobs in the future even if it is once again considered "non-attainment."

The temporary attainment status may present a short window of opportunity for area businesses.  If a business was looking to expand its facility or construct a new facility that would be considered  a "major source" of air pollution, it may be able to obtain requisite permits easier than previously.  But businesses will have to be quick to take advantage if such a window presents itself.  U.S. EPA is set to make formal designation under the new .075 ppb ozone standard in 2010.  At most this means businesses could have a year to act.

Remedy in Cinergy NSR Case Forces Shut Down of Units

As an indication the New Source Review (NSR) enforcement actions are alive and well, today an Indiana federal court has ordered the shut down of units that triggered NSR and failed to install controls.  In addition, the Court required Cinergy to surrender allowances to compensate for "irreparable harm" caused by the operation of the units in violation of the Clean Air Act

The Federal District Court in Indiana issued its decision in the remedy phase of the New Source Review (NSR) enforcement action against Cinergy Corporation's Beckjord, Ohio plant.  A jury trial was held in May of 2008 to determine whether certain projects triggered NSR.  The jury found that four projects performed at the facility "a reasonable power plant owner or operator would have expected a new increase of 40 tons of SO2 and/or NOx "(NSR major modification trigger levels).  Following the jury's verdict, the Court moved into the remedy stage to determine what relief to grant the plaintiffs for the violations.

The Courts decision is an interesting exercise of looking its crystal ball.  Based on calculations of emissions and modeling, the Court projected environmental harm caused by failure to comply with NSR. 

To determine harm, the Court first determined the type of pollution controls that would have been installed had Cinergy complied with NSR requirements (BACT/LAER).  Those controls established the baseline emissions that should have been emitted since the projects were completed.  All emissions above the baseline were considered  "excess emissions" that resulted in environmental harm and potential health impacts.

It was pretty evident which direction the Court was heading when it included the following statement in its order:

With respect to SO2 emissions, Dr. Fox testified that the annual excess emissions of SO2 is approximately 23,000 tons...Putting this into perspective, this rate is approximately equivalent to the amount of SO2 emitted by 324,000 heavy-duty diesel trucks, which is the total number of trucks registered in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

The analysis of environmental harm and potential health impacts was very similar to the exercise undertaken by the North Carolina Court in the nuisance claims against coal fired power plants (see post, "Nuisance Finding Gives Downwind States New Ammo in Long Cross-Border Pollution War").  Here is what the Court examined to gage harm caused by "excess emissions":

  • How did the SO2 and Nox emission impact pm 2.5 and ozone attainment
  • What were mercury emission impacts
  • Potential health impacts from fine particle pollution
  • Damage to the environment from acid rain

After finding irreparable harm from these impacts the Court ordered:

  1. Shut down of three units by Sept. 2009
  2. Until Sept. 2009, the three units must be run so as not to exceed baseline levels that are based BACT/LAER controls
  3. Permanently surrender SO2 allowances in an amount equal to total SO2 emissions from May 22, 2008 until September 30, 2009

For those who though the NSR consent decrees carried with them pretty dramatic remedies, this decision shows you take an equivalent risk by going to trial. 

 (Photo: DanieVDM/everystockphoto.com)

In a Major Reversal, Obama Administration Restarts NSR Enforcement Initiative

In a dramatic reversal from the Bush Administration, the Department of Justice and U.S. EPA are renewing their New Source Review enforcement efforts against coal-fired power plants.  The NSR lawsuits originally commenced during the Clinton years have resulted in billions of dollars in new controls and hundreds of millions in civil penalties. 

The industry had breathed a sigh of relief when the Bush EPA announced they were not going to pursue additional cases.  Now the industry faces the prospect of a new round of very costly litigation, controls and penalties.

U.S. EPA issued a press release announcing the first new NSR complaint:

Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other industry in the United States. They account for nearly 70 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions each year and 20 percent of nitrogen oxides emissions. Emissions from coal-fired power plants have detrimental health effects on asthma sufferers, the elderly and children. Additionally, these emissions have been linked to forest degradation, waterway damage, reservoir contamination and deterioration of stone and copper in buildings.

To combat these adverse effects, the EPA and the Justice Department are pursuing a national initiative, targeting electric utilities whose coal-fired power plants violate the law.

The suits reverse the Bush Administration decision to only conclude the Clinton era NSR lawsuits and to not pursue new cases unless the involve violations of the Bush era  NSR regulations. In 2006, former EPA enforcement chief Grant Nakayama told Congress he would pursue investigations of coal-fired power plants only if they appeared to fall out of step with the administration's series of proposed and final changes to the NSR program .  On October 13, 2005 Marcus Peabody, Assistant Administrator, issued a memorandum to U.S. EPA's Office of Enforcement Compliance Assurance directing the office to pursue only cases involving violation of the Bush era NSR rules. 

The NSR directive is just one of many Bush evironmental policy and regulatory decisions that the Obama Administration has reversed.  Utility representatives said the Obama administration's efforts to ramp up NSR enforcement came as no surprise.

On February 25th, the Department of Justice has sued Louisiana Generating, alleging that the NRG Energy subsidiary violated New Source Review requirements by operating the Big Cajun 2 Power Plant without also installing and operating modern pollution control equipment after the generating units had undergone major “modifications.”(DOJ Press Release)

This follows a similar lawsuit filed earlier in February against Westar Energy, Inc for failing to install Best Available Control Technology (BACT) at one or more of its coal-fired power plants.  The complaint alleges that for more than a decade, the Jeffrey Energy Center has operated without the best available emissions-control technology required by the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act to control emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, contributing to formation of fine particulate matter, smog and acid rain.
 

Improving Air Quality Good News to Cleveland Area Businesses

There is good news for area businesses.  Additional compliance costs and restrictions on economic growth will be avoided that were deemed all but certain a few years ago.  The compliance costs were associated with new air pollution controls needed to achieve  U.S. EPA's 1997 8-hour ozone standard (0.85 ppm). The deadline to meet this standard is 2009.

When I was Director of Ohio EPA,  all the modeling and projections showed there was no way Cleveland would meet the standard by the deadline. I remember giving speeches around the State with the basic theme- "we would have to de-populate Cleveland to meet the Ozone deadline."   I remember briefing the Governor that it appeared likely the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain Nonattainment Area would have to "bump up" to the next category of nonattainment-"serious."  By bumping up Cleveland would buy time to reach the standard, but the cost was a list on new federally mandated controls and restrictions.  Bump up would have had devastating impacts on the local economy.

[This is a slide taken from one of the speeches on reaching the ozone standard.  The numbers show various ozone levels at each monitor in the nonattainment area after imposing various control options.  The black number was a series of draconian measures that would have devastated the local economy.  Even after imposing those controls the models predicted continued nonattainment.]

 

 

Perhaps this is a lesson about not putting too much faith in modeling, but  based upon recent air quality monitoring Cleveland has indeed attained the 1997 8-hour ozone standard.   Area businesses may never be fully aware of the crisis that was averted.  But this is certainly good news for an area that has struggled to meet federal air quality standards.

Below is additional background on the recent Ohio EPA submittals.

In 2008, Ohio EPA submitted an State Implementation Plan (SIP) for the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain nonattainment area that requested redesignation to attainment status.  This was based on monitoring data from 2005,2006 and 2007 that showed Cleveland close to attainment [0.0853 compared to 0.0853]. 

This month, February 2009 Ohio EPA has prepared an updated attainment demonstration for the Cleveland that incorporates the most recent air monitoring data from the summer of 2008.  Due to ever improving air quality, the updated monitoring data shows Cleveland complies with the Standard [0.084 compared to 0.085 standard]. 

Here is additional detail regarding the two submissions:

2008 Ohio EPA Redesignation Request to U.S. EPA
In the February 2008, Ohio EPA submitted its request to U.S. EPA to have the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain nonattainment area redesignated to attainment. The document included two key conclusions:

1) Monitoring data for 2005-2007 showed the area just above the standard. The data showed 0.853 ppm compared to the 0.85 ppm standard.

2) Ohio EPA was requesting redesignation of the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain area based upon modeling that showed it expected the area to attain the standard by 2009. This was known as the "weight of evidence" approach (WOE). Under the WOE policy, U.S. EPA can redesignate an area attainment even though monitoring data shows it has not met the standard.  However, Ohio EPA must provide the federal EPA convincing evidence the area will reach the standard by the 2009 deadline.

Ohio EPA included the following language in the January 2008 submittal to U.S. EPA:

"The (air) modeling results as well as the previously submitted weight of evidence information supports the conclusion that Cleveland-Akron-Lorain OH area should attain the eight-hour ozone standard on time.

In spite of this evidence, Ohio EPA is developing additional emission reduction options. Ohio EPA recognizes that the ozone standard is currently under review and a final revision to the standard will most likely result in a revised standard that will require additional emission reductions above those necessary to achieve the existing standards. Ohio EPA is currently in discussions with U.S. EPA and local stakeholders assessing the options available to meet the future standard, including the use of lower Reid-Vapor Pressure gasoline. "

Bottom line: Ohio EPA left open the possibility it would impose additional control measures to support its WOE demonstration to U.S. EPA.

2009 Revised Ohio EPA Redesignation Request to U.S. EPA: Ozone levels improved significantly in the summer of 2008. The average of the 2006, 2007 and 2008 ozone seasons shows an overall average of 0.84 ppm which is below the 0.85 ppm standard.

This is very good news for the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain area. This means Ohio EPA no longer has to propose a WOE approach to U.S. EPA. Rather, Ohio EPA can rely on the real monitoring data which already shows attainment with the standard. As a result, all of the language I quoted above regarding evaluating additional control options has been dropped. In the 2009 submittal Ohio EPA states:

"The Cleveland-Akron-Lorain ozone nonattainment area has attained the 1997 NAAQS for ozone and complied with the applicable provisions of the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act regarding redesignations of ozone nonattainment areas...Based on this presentation, the Cleveland-Akron-Lorain ozone nonattainment area meets the requirements for redesignation under the CAA and U.S. EPA guidance....Furthermore, because the area is subject to significant transport of pollutants, significant regional NOx reductions will ensure continued compliance (maintenance) with the standard with an increasing margin of safety."

Bottom line: It appears Ohio EPA is no longer evaluating additional controls to comply with the 1997 ozone standard. In addition, the language referring to "subject to significant transport of pollutants" is a reference to the fact our ozone levels are heavily influenced by emissions from elsewhere in Ohio and the Midwest. This means continued strengthening of programs like CAIR (power plant reductions) will continue to result in improved air quality.

Of course the story does not end here... U.S. EPA is in the process of imposing the new 2008 ozone standard (0.75 ppm). Current monitoring shows Cleveland is a long way from achieving the new standard. Unfortunately, this means Cleveland-Akron-Lorain will not get out from under its nonattainment status anytime in the near future.  But at least we are no longer discussing draconian measures to meet the old ozone standard.

What Would BACT be for CO2?

With recent developments in climate change litigation, including the Deseret Power decision, it appears we are moving ever closer to requiring control of CO2 from coal fired power plants and other major sources of CO2.   Outgoing EPA Administrator Johnson may have delayed things temporarily by issuing his memo in response to Deseret Power. However, incoming EPA Administrator Jackson has pledged to quickly review the California waiver request that would allow the State to set CO2 emission standards for cars. If that happens, the dominoes will soon fall requiring controls for CO2 for all major sources under the Clean Air Act.

A positive "endangerment finding" in response to the California Waiver request will trigger a host of other regulations. Those would include requiring emission controls from new major sources of CO2 and other greenhouse gases under EPA's New Source Review permit program. 

If new or modified sources are required to control CO2, then as part of their permit they will be required to install Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to reduce CO2 emissions if located in an area that meets federal air quality standards.  More stringent limits (Lowest Achievable Emission Rate- LAER) apply in areas that don't meet air quality standards. 

The focus of all the recent litigation has been on whether to require CO2 controls as part of a BACT permit review.  But that begs a very interesting question....What would BACT be for CO2?

I was asked this very question during a recent interview I had with a reporter from Inside EPA.  That sent me to research the issue.   My review shows to things:  1) there is a wide divergence of opinion among experts as to what BACT would likely be;  and 2) EPA has a fair amount of discretion to determine the BACT standard for CO2.  Once it is decided that BACT must be required to control CO2 (and other greenhouse gases), Industry insiders expect EPA would take at a minimum 6 months to decide the issue.

Reading the tea leaves, I think we can begin to decipher an answer as to what BACT may constitute.  We certainly can eliminates some suggestion offered by pundits based upon how EPA has applied the BACT standard in the past.  Here is what we know....

  1. There are no current EPA endorsed technologies for controlling CO2EPA's current RACT/BACT/LAER clearinghouse doesn't have anything on CO2.  The clearinghouse is used to identify various control technologies that would be deemed to meet the various standards on specific industries or technologies. 
  2. BACT is a site-specific, case-by-case decision which means uncertainty.  In testimony  House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, attorneys Peter Glaser and John Cline stated the following: "Since BACT determinations for CO2 have no regulatory history at this time, and can vary by type of facility and from state-to-state, businesses wishing to construct new sources or modify existing ones would have no basis for planning what the regulatory requirements will be."
  3. Case law and regulatory decisions of EPA establish parameters for the BACT analysis.  As detailed below, case law in the context of BACT for coal plants can be extrapolated to CO2.  The same general guidelines used to evaluate controls for other pollutants (SO2, CO, mercury, NOx) will be used for CO2. 

Now lets turn to a review of experts who have offered their opinion as to which technologies should be considered BACT for CO2.  Here is one guess from the blog Cleanergy.org:

BACT for CO2 is unlikely to mean carbon capture and storage (yet), since it's not readily available, but it will probably mean some combination of co-generation (making use of waste heat from electricity generation), efficiency improvements, and/or fuel switching/co-firing with biomass. Ultimately, President-elect Obama's EPA gets to decide how BACT is defined for CO2, a process which will take at least a year. 

Joseph Romm, author of the blog Climate Progress, offered his opinion of what BACT for CO2 may look like.

Certainly it is going to slow down the permitting of any new coal plant dramatically, until the EPA figures out the answer to the $64 billion question: What is BACT for CO2 for a coal plant? That will probably take the Obama EPA at least 12 months to decide in a rule-making process. But from my perspective it could/should/must include one or more of:


a) Co-firing with biomass — up to 25% cofiring has been demonstrated
b) Highest efficiency plants
c) Cogeneration
(i.e. recycled energy)
d) (possibly even) Gasification with, yes, carbon capture and storage (CCS)

Here are some other opinions as to possible technologies that would qualify as BACT for coal-fired power plants:

  1. Solar Thermal at a Coal Power Plant- mix the steam from solar thermal with steam from the boiler to reduce emissions. 
  2. Highly Efficient Boilers-  Jeff Holmstead, former Chief Air Official for U.S. EPA, has said he  BACT would be for CO2 right now given costs and development of other control technology.

But let's look at the legal guidance associated with BACT.  In doing so, some of the technologies suggested seem "not ready for prime time" or would not be considered a control technology but rather a different type of generation. 

BACT is determined through a case-by-case evaluation of control technology alternatives and involves a complicated weighing of economic, environmental, energy and other factors. BACT can even be no control measure if that weighing process fails to identify a technically and economically feasible technology for controlling the pollutant in question.

A detailed discussion of the permitting process and legal aspects of a BACT analysis is provided below.  The single biggest consideration is that BACT takes the project as proposed and establishes the lowest achievable emission rate for the various pollutants.

This means BACT cannot fundamentally change the design of the proposed project.  This is why EPA has rejected establishing IGCC as BACT.  If the permit applicant is proposing a traditional pulverized coal boiler, then limits must be established based upon what is achievable for that type of boiler.

This eliminates many of the control technologies suggested by pundits:

  1. IGCC- would force a redesign and would be rejected
  2. Solar Thermal Combined with a Coal Boiler- would be rejected as forcing a redesign
  3. Carbon Capture and Storage- This one is interesting.  Under BACT you must take the geographical location of the project into consideration.  If the geologic considerations would make CCS infeasible for the project it could not be required.  In addition, CCS is certainly not ready for prime time and could not be required as part of BACT for any site right now.

Some other technologies are more likely to be considered BACT:

  1. High Efficiency Boilers- this would likely be required to reduce emissions
  2. Co-firing with biomass-  depending on the project, this could be required.  Co-firing reduces CO2 emissions.  BACT does involve consideration of "clean fuels", however co-firing biomass would likely be rejected if it caused a major redesign of the facility.
  3. Coal Drying- By removing moisture from the coal you can reduce CO2 emissions.  Similar to co-firing biomass this could be required if it doesn't force a major redesign of the project.

What are the legal components of a BACT determination?

Here is the Clean Air Act definition of BACT:

The term “best available control technology” means an emission limitation based on the maximum degree of reduction of each pollutant subject to regulation under
this chapter emitted from or which results from any major emitting facility, which the permitting authority, on a case-by-case basis, taking into account energy,
environmental, and economic impacts and other costs, determines is achievable for such facility through application of production processes and available
methods, systems, and techniques, including fuel cleaning, clean fuels, or treatment or innovative fuel combustion techniques for control of each such
pollutant.

EPA's New Source Review Manual calls for a "top down analysis" of control technologies for each regulated pollutant emitted by the proposed source.  All potential control technologies are identified at the start and as you work down the steps you see if any should be eliminated.  The most effective control technology remaining after Step 5 is then considered BACT.  Here are the five distinct steps of the "top down analysis":

  1. Identify all potential control options
  2. Eliminate technology infeasible controls- the control technology must be "demonstrated" to work on a commercial scale over a sufficient period of time.
  3. Rank remaining control technologies by control efficiency
  4. Consider the energy, economic and environmental effects of the control technology-  proposed technologies can be eliminated based upon cost effectiveness or because they reduced energy efficiency.
  5. Select the most effective control technology that was not eliminated in Step 4 of the process.

Here are some key considerations that can be gleaned from case law surrounding BACT determinations:

  • Case-by-case analysis- Each project is examined on its own.  Examine the proposed fuel, type of source and geographic location when establishing emission limits.  BACT is not a universal control standard for all projects.  Instead, it takes each project case-by-case and determines what is the lowest achievable limit.
  • "Achievable"- the established emission limit must have been met on a continual basis. Optimum performance is not the test, rather the limit must be consistently met over a period of time.  The limit will often include a "safety factor" or "cushion" to ensure the limit can be met over the life of the facility.
  • "Available" control technology- must be demonstrated at a commercial sized source for a sufficient period of time.
  • Does not redefine the source-  Must look at the proposed design of the project and go from there in setting limits.  You cannot force a redesign.  For instance, BACT could not require renewable energy generation instead of coal. 
  • Can consider economic, environmental or energy impacts in eliminating control technologies-  cost can be a consideration in choosing a control technology.  For instance, if the cost effectiveness of a control technology is low it can be eliminated from consideration.

 

Ohio Finalizes Emission Trading Bank for Offsets

Ohio EPA wants to make it easier for economic development to occur in areas like Cleveland, which are designated "non-attainment" with the federal air quality standards (NAAQS) such as ozone or PM 2.5.   Federal regulations require companies looking to build or expand in these areas to offset their emissions.  Offset is achieved by securing the requisite emission reducition credits from existing companies in the non-attainment area. 

In the past a company had no idea whether sufficient eligible emission reductions had occurred that would allow them to fully offset their emission increases.  Available emission reduction credits was not public information.  This lack of information may have dissuaded companies from considering non-attainment areas for expansion.  This hurts areas like Cleveland which is non-attainment for both ozone and P.M. 2.5.

Ohio EPA will now be establishing a state-wide emission trading bank to help facilitate communication between companies that hold emission trading credits and those that need to purchase the credits to build or expand.  The emission trading bank is in reality a web site that will list the available credits by non-attainment area and pollutant.  It's kind of like a giant advertising billboard for companies holding credits they want to sell.  As further explained below, credits will be listed in the bank as either "verified" or "unverified." 

Ohio EPA has finalized the rules that will govern the emission trading bank, known as the emission reduction credits (ERC) rules.  See,OAC Chapter 3745-111. The rules will become effective on January 8, 2009.  

Basic Overview of Offset Requirement: Under U.S. EPA's New Source Review (NSR) program a company looking to build or expand a facility in a non-attainment area may be required to offset its air emissions before receiving a permit (Permit to Install and Operate- PTIO) to construct the facility from Ohio EPA.  Only new or expanded facilities that are "major" sources need offset their emission.  Generally, a "major" source is a source that will emit over 100 tons of the non-attainment related pollutant or 40 tons if it is an expansion of an existing source.  However, these thresholds vary depending upon the pollutant and how the severity of the non-attainment designation.

Ohio EPA's ERC Program is Voluntary:  There is no requirement to participate in Ohio EPA's emission trading bank.  The ERC rules only apply to those who elect to list their emission credits on Ohio EPA's website.  Private transactions between companies outside of the Ohio EPA's emission trading bank is still permissible.

ERC Program Will List Verified and Unverified Credits:  A company who holds ERC's may elect to have them reviewed and certified by Ohio EPA before listing them.  If Ohio EPA validates the credits they will be considered "verified" and will be listed as such on the web site.  The company will be issued a ERC certificate with a unique number for tracking purposes.

Verified credits have advantages- 1) a buyer should not have to worry as to whether the credits are valid once they turn them in to get their NSR permit; and 2) the permitting process for a new source offsetting its emissions will be faster if it uses verified credits.  For sellers of credits, the disadvantage to verified credits its the administrative costs associated with completing the process. 

Unverified credits can be included in the bank.  However, Ohio EPA's rules will not allow for the transfer of unverified credits.  A company would either have to withdraw the credits and transfer them outside the bank or go through the verification process.

What Types of Activities Generate Credits?  Other states (Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey) have operated banks for a long time with a mixed degree of success.  Studies have shown that 80% of all ERC credits in other states were generated as a result of facility shut downs.  However, ERCs can be generated by installing new pollution control equipment, a change in process or reduced hours if they meet the regulatory requirements (quantifiable, reliable, enforceable and replicable).  Stationary and mobile source reductions can both result in ERCs.

What Should You Consider if You Are a Buyer or Seller of Credits? 

  1. Verified credits should be worth more- Verified credits should command a higher price.  They have already been certified by Ohio EPA and therefore carry far less risk than unverified credits.
  2. Transfer contracts should allocate risk-  All transfers of credits should be governed by well developed contracts that address the issues associated with the particular transaction.  For instance, are the credits sold "as is" or does the contract contain guarantees as to their validity.  When will payment be made?  What happens if the credits are invalidated?
  3. Assess the market-  Whether you are a buyer or seller you should assess the market before making decisions.  What types of credits are available?  How many credits are available?  If you are a buyer, make preliminary inquiries as to price to determine the viability of completing the project.

Are There ERCs in Ohio Right Now?  Ohio EPA has not established the website.  Now that the ERC rules are finalized, Ohio EPA can start to promote the bank.  Hopefully, this will lead to an expansion in the number of credits available.  Based upon limited information from Ohio EPA companies have submitted potential credits for consideration.  Submissions so far include the following types of credits in the locations specified:

Generated in Scioto County
17.75 tons of PM 2.5 ERCs
26.62 tons of SO2 ERCs
14.51 tons of NOx ERCs


Generated in Portage County
57.91 tons of VOC ERCs


Generated in Hamilton County
45.60 tons of VOC ERCs
 

 

CO2 Decision Impacts Ohio Coal Plant Permits

 

It didn't take long for the Deseret Power Decision to come back to Ohio.  The debate is over whether a permit for the proposed coal to liquid fuel plant proposed by Baard Energy and AMP Ohio's new coal power plant can move forward in light of the decision.  Here is a sampling of the debate over the Baard project as it appears in the local paper The Vindicator:

The statements came as the state EPA is on the brink of issuing an air permit for the proposed $5.5 billion Baard Energy plant that would turn coal into liquid fuel. Settles said a decision is expected to be made within the next two weeks.

The air permit would be the final permit needed to begin construction that would be a boost to the local economy. Permits regulating the plant’s effects on water and wetlands have already been approved.

In a statement, the Sierra Club said it went before the EPA Appeals Board in May of this year to request that the air permit for Deseret Power Electric Cooperative’s proposed waste coal-fired power plant in Utah be overturned because it failed to require any controls on carbon dioxide pollution.

The Sierra Club’s statement said the decision means that all new and proposed coal plants nationwide must go back and address their carbon dioxide emissions.
 

AMP Ohio's permit is facing an equal challenge.  In today'sDaily Sentinel, AMP Ohio was a bit cautious in its statements:

Carson (AMP Ohio) also pointed out, the decision was not in Ohio, which has a fully approved state permitting program, and that AMP-Ohio has worked for over a year in cooperation with Ohio EPA in meeting all requirements of Ohio law in regards to getting the plant online. Carson also pointed out the permit for the Utah plant was not denied but sent back to a regional office for reevaluation.

In a press release, the Sierra Club stated: “Two of the largest new coal proposals for Ohio, the AMP-Ohio power plant in Meigs County and the Baard liquid coal plant in Columbiana County, are likely to face setbacks from the ruling. Both companies had previously insisted that carbon dioxide should remain unregulated — an argument rejected in today’s ruling — and had resisted attempts to establish carbon limits in their air permits.”

Obviously there is a disagreement between the Sierra Club and Ohio EPA on how the decision will affect the permits at issue.  While Ohio EPA is correct that it is one federal court decision, the two cases that have had final decisions issued on whether C02 must be evaluated as part of federal New Source Review (NSR) have certainly been more in favor of requiring controls.  The Georgia State court held CO2 is a regulated pollutant and the pollution control analysis (BACT) for the new coal plant had to include controls for CO2.

The Sierra Club is a certainly overstating the decision in Deseret (see their Press Release) by claiming that all new coal plants must address CO2.  As discussed in my last post, the Environmental Appeals Board remanded the permit to U.S. EPA.  The Board said U.S. EPA has discretion to go either way- determine CO2 is a regulated pollutant or decide monitoring requirements are not enough to trigger requirements to control CO2. 

The Board did reject U.S.EPA's basis for saying historical precedent tied its hands from determining monitoring was enough to trigger regulation of CO2.  However, the Board did not say U.S. EPA couldn't develop a defensible position.

What is certain, is there is tremendous uncertainty.  From these comments we can anticipate Ohio EPA will issue the permit (known as "The Ohio River Clean Fuels LLC") without requiring analysis of CO2.  The Baard permit will be challenged and it is totally uncertain as to whether the permit will be invalidated by either a State or Federal Court in Ohio. The AMP Ohio Permit faces similar uncertainty.

Deseret Power Case: CO2 Regulation Issue Punted to Obama Administration

Talk about your pro-bowl quality punts...U.S. EPA's Environmental Appeals Board made a major one this week on the issue of climate change.  All eyes were fixated on the Board waiting for their decision on whether the Clean Air Act requires immediate regulation of greenhouse gases  (GHGs-which include CO2).  The Board's answer?  We would rather let the Obama Administration decide.

Others on the web point out this may hold up permits for coal plants while EPA deliberates on what to do next.  There is uncertainty after the decision, but other Courts don't have to follow the EAB ruling.

-See Coal Plant Stop Orders and Power Landscape Changes After Ruling

Background:  For those not keeping up to date on the latest litigation over regulation of GHGs, a major decision was issued yesterday- Deseret Power Electric Cooperative (Bonanza).  At issue in the case was whether the current language of the Clean Air Act requires immediate regulation of GHGs.

The Sierra Club appealed a federal permit that would have allowed construction of a new coal fired power plant.  The Sierra Club argued the permit was illegal because it did not require control of CO2 and the Clean Air Act (CAA) mandates regulation of the pollutant. 

Under the CAA,  EPA would have to require controls for CO2 if it is a pollutant "subject to regulation" under the Act.  The issue turned on the amount of regulation necessary to trigger this provision.  The Clean Air Act does require monitoring and reporting of CO2 for some sources.  But EPA argued monitoring is not enough, claiming that it has interpreted "subject to regulation" as meaning the Agency has set a standard requiring reductions, not just monitoring of emissions.

Implications:  A win for the Sierra Club would have had immediate and dramatic impacts on business across the country.  Hundreds of thousands of businesses, even commercial buildings may have needed a federal air permit to control CO2 emissions.  The EPA would have been overwhelmed with a tidal wave of new work. Why?

As discussed in a prior post, the permit thresholds in the CAA are extraordinarily low in the context of greenhouse gases.  Just how low?  The Act requires federal regulation for sources that emit 100 or 250 tons of a pollutant, depending on various factors.  That's fine for traditional pollutants like sulfur dioxide and soot, but ridiculous when viewed in the context of greenhouse gases.  As a comparison, California's Climate Change Program (AB-32) uses a threshold of 25,000 metric tons. 

On the other hand, if the Board sided with U.S. EPA then regulation of GHGs would be delayed until either U.S. EPA completed its lengthy rulemaking process or legislation is enacted by Congress.

Decision:  The Board definitely punted.  It did not agree with the Sierra Club that the plain text of the CAA requires CO2 to be regulated.  However, it rejected the EPA's position that an analysis of its historical interpretations forecloses the possibility that monitoring requirements are sufficient to trigger the need to regulate GHGs as a pollutant. 

The Board returned the permit to the Agency for further deliberation.  The Board said it is within EPA's discretion to begin regulating GHGs because the CAA includes monitoring requirements.  The Board concludes with the following paragraph:

Accordingly, we remand the Permit to for the Region (U.S. EPA) to consider whether or not to impose a CO2 BACT limit in light of the Agency's discretion to interpret, consistent with the CAA, what constitutes a "pollutant subject to regulation under this Act."  In remanding this Permit to the Region for reconsideration of its conclusions regarding application of BACT to limit CO2 emissions, we recognize that this is an issue of nation scope that has implications far beyond this individual permitting proceeding.  The Region should consider whether interested persons, as well as the Agency, would be better served by the Agency addressing the interpretation of the phrase "subject to regulation under this Act" in the context of an action of national scope, rather than through this specific permitting proceeding.  (emphasis added)

In otherwords, we want the Obama Administration to decide this through a regulatory interpretation that will apply universally and not by us requiring it in the context of a single appeal of a permit.

(Photo: Tostie14/everystockphoto.com)

Regulation of Greenhouse Gases Under the Clean Air Act "Absurd"

ABSURD

–adjective 1.utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense; laughably foolish or false: an absurd explanation. –noun 2.the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.
 

It is hard to believe but there are those who think regulating greenhouse gases under the current framework of the Clean Air Act (CAA) is the right thing to do. (see post "Politics Won't Decide Whether CO2 is Regulated Under the Clean Air Act").  Some of these same individuals assert that the Bush Administration was directly responsible for U.S. EPA's Administrator Steve Johnson's description of the Clean Air Act as "ill-suited" for regulating greenhouse gases (GHGs). 

However, an unbiased assessment of the structure of the Clean Air Act shows a regulatory mess would ensue if current CAA language was used to control GHGs.  In fact, I have heard senior staff at U.S. EPA express grave concern as what may follow if regulation of GHGs was required without amendment to the Clean Air Act. 

Take the most significant problem with using the CAA to regulate GHGs-permitting thresholds.  Under U.S. EPA's New Source Review (NSR) program a federal air pollution control permit is required anytime you have a source exceed "major thresholds."  40 CFR section 52.21(b)(1)(i).  The CAA sets the major threshold at any source that has the potential to emit 250 tons of a regulated pollutant.  The limit is 100 tons for specific types of sources or sources in nonattainment areas. U.S. EPA's Title V program requires a Title V air permit for source over 100 tons. 

The 250/100 ton thresholds work for pollutants like fine particles or ozone precursors because they capture large sources.   The thresholds trigger around 200-300 NSR permits per year.  The Title V threshold has led to issuance of around 18,000 Title V air permits in the country. 

However, greenhouse gas emissions, in particular CO2, are emitted in much higher quantities. Staff at EPA working on GHG regulation say they typically start paying attention to sources that emit 10,000 tons of CO2 per year.  For comparison, California's climate change law (AB32) establishes a mandatory reporting threshold of 25,000 metric tons.

If the 250/100 tons thresholds were applied to GHGs, U.S. EPA and state EPA's would be flooded with new permits.  U.S. EPA predicts there may be some 2,000-3,000 federal NSR permit per year and perhaps as many as 500,000 Title V sources in the Country.  Included in these numbers are small sources that have never been regulated by the Clean Air Act, such as large churches, retail stores and farms with as little as 25 cows. 

The numbers I cited above were provided by U.S. EPA as estimates.  The U.S. Chamber has put out a detailed report on the number of sources that would regulated based on GHG emissions thresholds in the CAA.  While some may say the U.S. Chamber's numbers are biased, I have not seen or heard anyone refute their analysis.  Also, the Chamber's numbers are generally consistent with EPA's own projections.  In U.S. EPA's Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking on regulation of GHGs, EPA says "application of the existing PSD (NSR) permitting program to these new smaller sources would be a very inefficient way to address the challenges of climate change." (see page 488 of the ANPR)

Those who support use of the Clean Air Act argue that U.S. EPA could adjust the permitting thresholds to capture fewer sources- an option offered by EPA in its ANPR.  The problem with this argument is that the thresholds are in the text of the CAA.  Basic legal principles say the plain text of a statute is entitled to significant deference.  

EPA's ANPR sets forth two legal arguments to adjust the thresholds- absurd results and administrative necessity.  The "absurd results" argument is that literal application of the thresholds would lead to absurd results (i.e. regulating very small sources of CO2).  The administrative necessity argument is that the burden that would ensue from application of the 250/100 ton thresholds would "prevent the agency form carrying out the mission assigned to it by Congress." (see ANPR page 497).  In other words, EPA would be overwhelmed and couldn't do its job if the thresholds are kept in tact.

I certainly can see using some of the broad concepts contained in the Clean Air Act to regulate GHGs.  However, Congressional action is needed to amend those provisions and make them fit for dealing with climate change.  Congress should not wait to act.  It is very possible a court could decide the CAA applies to GHGs without further action, thereby triggering the "absurd" results noted by EPA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decision on CO2 Won't Wait for EPA

Lets get everyone up to speed with events on regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) including CO2:

1.  Supreme Court says CO2 is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.  In Massachusetts v. EPA decided in April of 2007, the Supreme Court held that 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 endager public health before regulation commences The Court remanded the Section 202 determination to EPA to make the necessary "endangerment finding." 

2.  U.S. EPA says Clean Air Act is "ill suited" to regulated GHGs-  in July 2008, the EPA released its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on GHG regulation.  Along with its release, EPA Administrator Johnson made statements that the Clean Air Act is an ill-suited vehicle for regulation of GHGs. The ANPR represents EPA's response to both the Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA and a number of pending petitions to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from most mobile and stationary air pollution sources. The ANPR includes extensive analysis of the science related to climate change, technologies available for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the various statutory provisions that may be implicated by an endangerment finding under section 202 of the Clean Air Act. It solicits public comment on a variety of important issues.

3.  Environmental Groups Argue Regulation of GHGs is Not Discretionary by EPA-   Many environmental groups have argued that the finding that GHGs are a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act is enough to trigger immediate regulation under permitting provisions of the Act.  They argue the endangerment finding necessary for regulation under Section 202 is not necessary to begin regulating GHGs under other provisions of the Act.

4.  Litigation Ensues Over Whether Regulation of GHGs is Discretionary-  As discussed in previous posts, a number of legal challenges have been filed to the issuance of permits for construction of new coal fired power plants.  Environmental and Citizen Groups have challenged the permits on the basis the failed to control CO2 as a pollutant.  U.S. EPA and State EPA's have argued that C02 and the other GHGs are not "regulated" pollutants under the Act.  They distinguish the Massachusetts decision by saying the Court only found GHGs to be a pollutant.  Therefore, U.S. EPA must complete its rulemaking process before GHGs are regulated.  At least one State Court has already disagreed with EPA's interpretation.  A Georgia Court has already ruled the GHG are a regulated pollutant that must be considered as part of EPA's New Source Review (NSR) permitting program.

And now the latest....

While U.S. EPA methodically proceeds down its rulemaking path, it is more than likely the Courts will not wait for EPA before deciding whether CO2 is a regulated pollutant.  In fact, I believe the landmark case to decide whether regulation of GHGs must occur immediately is about to be decided.  In the case, the Sierra Club is challenging EPA’s issuance of a permit for a waste-coal-fired generating unit at a power plant in Utah that did not establish Best Available Control Technology (BACT) emissions limits for CO2

On September 12, 2008, reply briefs were filed in the case of in the Deseret Power Electric Cooperative (Bonanza) case which is before U.S. EPA's Environmental Appeals Board.   A decision in the case could be expected in the next couple of months.  To give you an idea of the level of attention this case is attracting, the following business groups filed briefs in the litigation:  U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, American Petroleum Institute, American Chemistry Council, etc.   

Sierra Club argues that because the Supreme Court has already determined that CO2 is an “air pollutant” under the Clean Air Act (CAA), that finding triggers EPA's obligation to establish BACT for CO2 emissions in the permit.  EPA and the business groups counter that the Supreme Court only EPA found CO2 to be a “pollutant” under the CAA, it is not yet a pollutant “subject to regulation” for which BACT is required until EPA concludes is rulemaking process. 

The Sierra Club together with New York, California and other Northeast States have put forward a novel argument that may tip the scales in their favor based upon comments I have heard from EPA officials.  The Sierra Club cites to Section 821 of the Clean Air Act which establishes monitoring requirements for CO2.  The following excerpt is from a Sierra Club brief filed in the litigation:

In § 821 Congress ordered EPA “to promulgate regulations” requiring that hundreds of facilities covered by Title IV monitor and report their CO2 emissions, and in §165, Congress required a BACT limit for “any pollutant subject to regulation” under the Act. The only possible reading of these two statutory mandates is that Congress intended that EPA apply BACT limits to CO2 pursuant to §165.

The ultimate issue boils down to whether monitoring requirements rise to the level of "regulation" of CO2 or does EPA have to establish actual air quality standards or emission limits for CO2 and other GHGs.    

The decision in this case will have massive repercussions.  If EAB decides in EPA's favor, regulation of GHG will likely be delayed for at least a couple of years.  If the EAB agrees with the Sierra Club, EPA will need to immediately begin regulating GHG in permitting actions.  As I will discuss in an upcoming post, such a decision could overwhelm EPA and the States in new permits for hundreds of thousands of new sources. 

 

 

Latest Climate Change Lawsuit Targets Refinery Emissions

As reported in various newspapers, several states have moved forward with the next round of climate change litigation. The States have sued U.S. EPA arguing that the Agency illegally refused to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from refineries. 

Thelen's Climate Law Update, had a recent post discussing the lawsuit:

New York, California and 10 other states launched the latest lawsuit this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Although the document itself was bare-bones, officials said it's focused on the failure of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to adopt regulations known as New Source Performance Standards to control pollutants blamed for causing global warming.

Lawyers working for California Attorney General Jerry Brown told Climate Law Update the case would draw legal support from last year's landmark Massachusetts v. EPA decision last year. In that ruling the Supreme Court held the EPA had the authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases if it found they endangered human health or welfare.

So far, as Climate Law Update has reported, government officials have balked at such a move, calling the law "ill-suited" to controlling such emissions, and they have launched a lengthy effort to study the issue.


U.S. EPA pronounced that the Clean Air is "ill-suited" for regulation of GHGs when it issued its proposed rulemaking on regulation of greenhouse gases under the Act.   U.S. EPA's rulemaking is an analysis of the whether and how GHGs could be effectively controlled under the Clean Air Act. 

In U.S. EPA's latest action, refusal to regulate GHG emissions under the NSPS (new source performance standards), U.S. EPA asserted:

  1. The Clean Air Act does not mandate U.S. EPA regulate GHGs under the standard
  2. The Agency should be allowed to proceed with a more deliberate and thoughtful process in developing greenhouse gas regulations, then simply incorporating regulations as it develops source specific rules
  3. Regulating GHG under NSPS could require the Agency to develop regulations for other categories of sources and under several other parts of the Act.

While U.S. EPA may prefer a more deliberative process and a comprehensive approach, it does not prevent Courts from interpreting the Act to require regulation and force application on a case by case basis. As an example, we have already had one Court determine the Clean Air requires analysis of greenhouse gases during the permit process.

There is no doubt the wave of climate change litigation has not even crested. It is also certain that the Clean Air Act structure does not mesh well with regulation of greenhouse gases.  In fact, some of the most complicated provisions in the Clean Air Act, such as New Source Review, are overly complicated when applied to criteria pollutants (SO2, NOx, PM)  However, as long as Congress and U.S. EPA delay comprehensive action on climate change, we are likely to construct climate change regulation by default and in piecemeal fashion. 

 

 

U.S. EPA's Fine Particle Designations Impact County Economic Development Efforts

 Yesterday, U.S. EPA announced its proposed non-attainment designations for counties not meeting the new P.M. 2.5 (fine particle) pollution standardOhio was second only to California in total counties designated non-attainment with 28 total counties

A county's designation as non-attainment makes economic development efforts more difficult and increases competitive pressure on existing businesses.  The designations mean regulatory restrictions on economic growth and increased pollution control compliance costs for existing businesses. 

How is economic growth impacted?  Before a company can build a new factory or expand, if that factory will result in a moderate pollution increase of fine particles it must offset that emission increase.  An offset is achieved through pollution reductions from existing businesses already located in that county.  The offset requirement, as part of U.S. EPA's New Source Review Program, acts as a strong disincentive to locate in non-attainment counties.  The offset requirement only goes away if the county is redesignated attainment.

How does County get out of its non-attainment designation?  Through reductions in fine particle pollution to levels that comply with the federal standards. Reductions are achieved through a combination of federal and state pollution programs.  The State must develop a pollution control plan (SIP) that shows its strategy for achieving the federal air quality standard by the applicable deadline (2012).

What are the largest sources contributing to fine particle pollution?  Transportation, in particular diesel engines and coal-fired power plants.  While, fine particle pollution is more localized than ozone, it still has a regional component.  Therefore, counties must see state and regional reductions in order to achieve the standard. (Note: the recent letter from State EPA heads to U.S. EPA)

How can Ohio and other states effectively achieve reductions from these sources?  While U.S. EPA has adopted tougher standards for diesel engines, the reductions won't come until there is turnover in the fleet.  Therefore, the full benefits may not be seen for 25 years.  That is why programs like DERG that accelerate diesel reductions are so important. (see yesterday's post on Ohio's diesel grant program). 

Furthermore, Ohio and the other state's efforts to meet the fine particle standard are further complicated by the court decision throwing out U.S. EPA's CAIR program.  CAIR, as described by U.S. EPA, was the "linchpin" program designed to help states achieve attainment with ozone and fine particle standards. (see post "CAIR Decision Will Have Many Aftershocks")

Implementation of the new standard: Below is U.S. EPA's implementation schedule for both the old (65 ug/m3)  and new (35 ug/m3) 24-hour fine particle standards.  While Ohio submitted its SIP in July for the old standard it relied heavily upon CAIR.  So, even for the old program Ohio's SIP will need significant revisions.  It is yet to be seen how states can achieve either standard without regional reductions from coal-fired power plants.  Unfortunately, it doesn't appear Congress is going to act quickly to provide relief to the States.

Milestone

1997 PM2.5 Primary NAAQS

2006 PM2.5 Primary NAAQS

Promulgation of Standard

July 1997

Sep. 2006

Effective Date of Standard

Sep. 1997

Dec. 18, 2006

State Recommendations to EPA

Feb. 2004
(based on 2001-2003 monitoring data)

Dec. 18, 2007
(based on 2004-2006 monitoring data)

Final Designations Signature

Dec. 2004

No later than Dec. 18, 2008*

Effective Date of Designations

April 2005

Typically no later than 90 days after publication in the Federal Register

SIPs Due

April 2008

3 years after effective date of designations

Attainment Date

April 2010
(based on 2007-2009 monitoring data)

No later than 5 years after effective date of designations

Attainment Date with Extension

Up to April 2015

No later than 10 years from effective date of designations

 

 


 

CAIR Part II: Update on Short Term/Long Term Impacts

In my previous post on the CAIR decision, I discussed the environmental and practical ramifications of the Court's decision vacating the program.  While speaking at a large permitting seminar for manufacturer's, I had a chance to discuss the conclusions of my prior post with some State officials.  While I was correct that the CAIR decision complicates the State pollution control plans for ozone and soot, the environmental consequences discussed in my prior post need to be adjusted to account for additional factors. 

It is unclear how U.S. EPA will treat State air pollution control plans (SIPs) that rely on CAIR.  However, in the short term, not all the CAIR controls will be scuttled or switched off.  AEP and First Energy have entered into major settlements with U.S. EPA stemming from New Source Review (NSR) violations. 

These settlements require installation and operation of billions of dollars in new air pollution controls on power plants in Ohio.  The consent orders will act as a backstop now that CAIR is gone.  Perhaps some additional state actions will be needed to put additional backstops in place where no federal decree covers the plant.  In summary, it appears the Ohio may have the tools to deal with the short term issues presented by the absence of CAIR for sources within the State. 

The longer term consequences still remain and by 2015 will be felt if Congress does not act by replacing CAIR quickly.  CAIR was designed to drive a second wave of major reductions that will be very difficult to replace without some new federal program.  This second wave of reductions are essential for state's trying to meet the tougher ozone standard (.075 ppm) and soot standard (fine particle- pm 2.5).  If State's fail to meet either the ozone or soot standards, then existing businesses will likely be squeezed for additional air pollution reductions.  Also, economic development is more difficult in areas not attaining federal air quality standards.

Another consequence of the absence of a CAIR like program will be a lot more litigation between the states. It won't just be North Carolina or the East Coast suing upwind sources.  Even Ohio may be suing its neighbors like Indiana to try and force additional reductions.  

Why?  Ozone is truly a regional issue.  Even City's that some may think have no one to blame for their air pollution, such as Cleveland, in fact receive a substantial contribution from upwind sources. Take a look at the figures to the left.  They demonstrate how both ozone and P.M 2.5 are regional issues.  The majority of pollution in these major cities is from regional not local sources.

All this points to the need for Congressional action to replace CAIR to avoid a serious and costly problem for the State's and businesses.  Unfortunately, any action is very unlikely until we have a new President.

First Court Revokes Air Permit Over CO2 and Clean Air Act

For the first time a court has revoked a permit due to concerns over C02 emissions and climate change.  While there have been previous instances where states have denied permits due to concerns with C02 emissions, this is the first time a court has revoked a previously issued permit.  Notably, the Court did not base its decision on state law, rather it ruled the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires analysis and control of C02 emissions. 

Other courts are currently hearing similar challenges.  If this decision is a trend it will have major implications for any new facilities seeking an air permit.  In a future blog post I will discuss the implications of using the Clean Air Act, specifically the New Source Review provisions, to regulate CO2.  Much speculation has been made as to whether CO2 will be regulated even without action by Congress on comprehensive climate change legislation.

The CO2 decision was issued on June 20, 2008 in Georgia's Fulton County Superior Court.  The Georgia Environmental Protection Division had approved a permit for the construction of a proposed 1200-megawatt coal-fired power plant.   Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, challenged the permit saying the plant's emission of 8-9 million tons of CO2 had to be considered. Siding with the Sierra Club, the Court overturned the State's issuance and sent the permit back to perform the analysis it said was required under the CAA. 

Note: According to Sourcewatch, between 2007 and 2008, plans for 69 coal plants have been canceled.

The Clean Air Act requires major new sources of air pollution to install the best available pollution control technology (BACT) to reduce pollutants regulated by the Act.  The parties agreed that CO2 was not evaluated as a pollutant under the BACT analysis performed by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.  Longleaf Energy defended its permit by arguing that CO2 was not a pollutant "controlled or limited" by the Clean Air Act.  The Company also argued the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA was not controlling because the Court only found CO2 to be a pollutant, it did not determine it was a "regulated pollutant" under the Act.

The Court rejected the arguments raised by Longleaf stating the BACT provisions of the Clean Air Act were broader "encompassing all pollutants that are subject to regulation under the Act, whether or not they are independently subject to NAAQS [federal air quality standards] or other general limits."  The Court found that the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v EPA did determine CO2 was a "pollutant subject to regulation."