The EPA option
With prospects for a cap-and-trade bill dimming, Brad Plumer considers what it would look like for the EPA to begin regulating carbon emissions:
In March, the EPA will propose its new fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks (the goal is an average of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016). And as soon as that happens, the agency would be legally obligated to begin the process of regulating stationary sources, too—though the precise timeline here is still fuzzy.
The first wave of regulations would involve the EPA's "Prevention of Significant Deterioration" program. Anyone who wanted to build a new power plant or factory—or upgrade an existing facility—would need to apply for a state permit and adopt "best available control technology" for greenhouse-gas emissions. The EPA hasn't specified what technologies that might entail, but it could mean anything from more efficient processes for cement kilns to forcing coal-fired plants to switch to cleaner natural gas. The appropriate technologies would be decided on a plant-by-plant basis. Since this would only apply to new plants—or plants undergoing significant upgrades—it wouldn't affect the vast majority of existing polluters. (There will also, no doubt, be messy disputes over what counts as a "significant" upgrade, a Clean Air Act battle that's been raging for decades.) Still, this first step would make a splash almost immediately. "No one in their right mind is going to propose a new coal-fired plant after this," says David Bookbinder, the Sierra Club's chief climate counsel.[...]
[The EPA] would then have to figure out how to regulate existing polluters. This part is crucial: The original Clean Air Act ended up grandfathering in existing coal plants, which perversely gave utilities incentives to keep their oldest and dirtiest boilers chugging along for as long as possible. The agency has a variety of options here. According to Jason Burnett, a former EPA official who helped craft greenhouse-gas rules during the Bush years, one plausible scenario would see the agency setting pollution targets for different industrial sectors under section 111 of the Clean Air Act, the "New Source Performance Standards" program. Cement kilns and nitric-acid plants would get regulated first, possibly as soon as this year. After that would come oil and gas refineries, and, later still, fossil-fuel power plants.
That's what it looks like if everything goes smoothly. But very little is likely to go smoothly, for reasons Plumer explains elsewhere in the article.
The upside to all this is that there are actually some advantages to the EPA approach. For one thing, you won't get the congressional horsetrading that would, say, exempt every coal plant in North America. And if the EPA does a good enough job in the first round, you might see the energy industry get real interested in passing a more predictable and manipulable cap-and-trade bill in order to prevent a second round. But the danger is that a bunch of senators band together and take this authority away from the EPA before the agency can use it. Then you don't have a cap-and-trade bill or anything working in its absence.
"In the coming months," Plumer says, "many climate advocates may have to shift gears. Instead of talking about the EPA's authority as some terrifying prospect that only the passage of a cap-and-trade bill can stop, the EPA option could increasingly get framed as something worth defending in its own right." And hey, it shouldn't only be framed that way: it actually is worth defending in its own right!
February 9, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories: Climate Change
Save & Share: Previous: Your daily Toles
Next: Reader questions: No, the health-care bill does not keep you from paying money in exchange for services
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | February 9, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: Kevin_Willis | February 9, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: mbaker64 | February 9, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: MosBen | February 9, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: MosBen | February 9, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: toshiaki | February 9, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: len2v | February 9, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tl_houston | February 9, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: justin84 | February 9, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: lancediverson | February 9, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: cj362810 | February 9, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: michaelmcmenus | February 9, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: acahorvath | February 9, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: pgmichigan | February 9, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: wildernesslight | February 9, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: zosima | February 9, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: apberusdisvet | February 9, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: 4noone | February 9, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: shorething | February 9, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: bgmma50 | February 10, 2010 9:58 AM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.