As Regulation of Greenhouse Gases Nears, EPA Releases Guidelines

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The guidelines are intended to help states and industry evaluate the cost and kind of technologies that would best reduce greenhouse gases.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday unveiled new regulatory guidance intended to help states' air-pollution regulators and heavy industry evaluate the cost and kind of technologies that would best reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

It comes in the run-up to the historic first regulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from US industrial sources on Jan. 2. On that date, the EPA will require large new projects or plant upgrades that emit more than 75,000 tons of greenhouse gases to have a permit.

After that, in July, the EPA will begin to include other "regulated" sources that emit more than 100,000 tons. By July 2012, it will begin to weigh smaller emitters, but none under 50,000 tons. All this has generated a firestorm of opposition in Congress and among business interests.

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Wednesday's guidance is only for companies planning large new facilities or big changes to existing ones. These projects will be required under the Clean Air Act to employ "best available control technology" to curb GHG emissions. Power plants, cement plants, and refineries would be included, for instance. Emissions from small sources such as restaurants and farms are not covered by the new regulations.

The EPA's announcement comes as the White House works to put greenhouse-gas regulations in place before a new Republican-led House of Representatives takes power. Some see the announcement as the White House "rushing to get its rules out" before next year's hearings in the House, which are expected to question the EPA's scientific basis for greenhouse-gas regulations.

"In our view, today's [EPA] guidance may be part of an orchestrated deployment of rulemaking and enforcement actions, now that (1) the elections are over and (2) a Republican House majority in 2011 virtually guarantees deadlock on difficult energy issues," writes Kevin Book, an energy analyst with ClearView Energy Partners, in his analysis of the EPA move.

The step is part of the agency's good-faith effort to make the process as easy as possible, EPA officials said at a press conference. States and industry officials should not be thrown by the new initiative, they said, since it is being done in the same way that many other air pollutants have been regulated - within the already-tested steps and parameters specified by the Clean Air Act.

"EPA is working closely with its partners at the state and local levels to ensure permitting for greenhouse gases runs smoothly," said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "To identify GHG reduction options, EPA and the states are now ready to apply the same time-tested process they have used for other pollutants. …