The EPA is taking its first steps to begin regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under the Clean Air Act. It was ordered to consider greenhouse gases under the act by a Supreme Court ruling and, as a result of that consideration, found that greenhouse gases do, in fact, present a hazard that requires regulation.
Toward that end this week, the EPA has issued guidance to help those industries that will be affected, as defined under the EPA’s GHG Tailoring Rule enacted in May.
The guidance includes a series of white papers geared toward electrical generating units, large industrial/ commercial/ institutional boilers, pulp and paper, cement, the iron and steel industry, refineries, and nitric acid plants. The EPA has also made available its database on greenhouse gas mitigation strategies, which provides cost and effectiveness data for available greenhouse gas control measures.
Best available options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
The change requires that large facilities already in the Clean Air Act permitting process also apply existing standards to greenhouse gas emissions. This means that they must consider all available technologies and methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the design and operation of the facility for which a permit is being sought. According to information presented by the EPA’s Gina McCarthy in a press conference call on Wednesday, once all available methods of reducing these emissions have been identified, permit applicants can then winnow them down using feasibility and cost-effectiveness as criteria for selecting the best available option. This process is largely identical to the one followed currently, and for the past 30 years, for other pollutants that fall under the Clean Air Act permitting guidelines.
EPA: aim for energy efficiency
McCarthy told reporters that, in most cases, the best option is to simple use the most energy-efficient equipment available. Increasing overall efficiency, she said, means burning less fuel which automatically results in a lower total output of greenhouse gases.
Only those emitting 200 million pounds of greenhouse gas annually affected
McCarthy stressed that state agencies and the EPA are ready to begin issuing permits as required on Jan. 2, 2011, and that there is no reason to believe that any new facility will be delayed. Any applicant who deserves a permit, McCarthy stated, will be able to get one with no delay to the existing process. The new rules will initially apply only to those facilities already in line for Clean Air Act permitting. Beginning in July, the greenhouse gas emission permitting requirement will be expanded to any new facility that comes into the process that would produce 100,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.
Texas refuses to cooperate with new clean Air Act requirements
The EPA says it is disappointed that Texas has refused to participate in the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Texas is the largest single producer of greenhouse gases in the U.S. Despite the lack of cooperation, the EPA — McCarthy told reporters during Wednesday’s conference call — will make sure that the applicable industries do not fall behind in their ability to acquire permits for new facilities despite the state’s refusal to assist in the process.
EPA: No looming moratorium or bottle-neck
Despite some industry posturing to the contrary, McCarthy stated emphatically that there is no reason to believe that permitting will cause any slow-down, bottle-neck or moratorium on the construction of new facilities in the affected industries. The new rules do not add any limit or cap to the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted from any facility, but simply ensure that each new plant has made its best effort to minimize its output of greenhouse gases which include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) among others.
No cap on emissions; best effort required
What the EPA is asking, as it is required to by the Supreme Court ruling, is simply that new plants try their best to emit less greenhouse gases, especially through the use of more energy-efficient systems and processes.
Energy efficiency is also a crucial component to reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, a goal that most would agree is an important goal for both economic reasons and national security. Those who argue against this new permitting requirement, it would seem, are saying that companies should be allowed to spew as much of these pollutants into the air we breathe as they want without even looking at ways to reduce their output.
Remember that economic feasibility for the permit-seeker is a key criterion in choosing the mitigation strategy, so nothing in this requirement is destroying the financial viability of new plants. Arguably, energy efficiency should only help their bottom line on an ongoing basis, although it may require additional upfront expenditure for modern equipment.