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Climate Change

Published on December 23rd, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


Obama Administration EPA Begins the Reduction of Greenhouse Gases from Power Plants, As Promised

December 23rd, 2010 by  

With the defeat of the Democrats’ climate legislation in the filibuster-ruled Senate this year, that would have capped pollutants and reduced them annually, President Obama is today transferring to the EPA the regulation of greenhouse gases from refineries and coal plants that emit more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases, as promised.

In a statement today noting that these sources collectively contribute up to 40% of US greenhouse gas pollution, EPA chief Lisa Jackson said, “We are following through on our commitment to proceed in a measured and careful way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution that threatens the health and welfare of Americans and contributes to climate change.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency is issuing the final series of actions that will ensure that the largest industrial facilities must have annually declining Clean Air Act permits that cover greenhouse gas emissions beginning in January 2011. These actions are part of EPA’s common sense approach to permitting outlined in the spring 2010 tailoring rule.

The first set of actions will give EPA authority in the seven states that have failed to enact standards on a state level. These states are Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming.

The second action is to ensure that no states undercut Federal EPA standards with more lenient standards, as Texas has attempted. The EPA is taking additional steps to disapprove part of Texas’ Clean Air Act permitting program and will also issue GHG permits to facilities in the state.

The move is long awaited. A few months before the Copenhagen meeting, the EPA formally announced its readiness to regulate GHGs from stationary sources emitting over 25,000 tons a year, if no action was taken by congress.

At the start of the Democratic congress, President Obama had set up the fall-back position that the EPA would regulate the reduction of carbon dioxide if congress failed to act. At that time it looked to become a 60 vote majority, once Minnesota Senator Franken overcame the legal obstruction by Senator Coleman to being seated. But the few months of true majority proved short.

Only a few months after the 60th Democrat was seated, Senator Kennedy died, and with his death, the Democrats lost any chance at defeating the unprecedented use of a minority filibuster which allows 40 Senators to obstruct action. More bills were prevented by Minority Leader Senator McConnell from coming to the floor for an up or down vote than in any congress in US history, even at the time of the civil war.

“We have crossed the mark of over 100 filibusters and acts of procedural obstruction in less than one year,” Rhode Island’s Democratic Senator Whitehouse told the New York Times at the end of the first year. “Never since the founding of the Republic, not even in the bitter sentiments preceding Civil War, was such a thing ever seen in this body.”

The climate bill passed the Democratically controlled House, but like some 400 other bills, did not clear the Senate, despite reducing the deficit by $20 Billion according to the CBO, along with greenhouse gas reduction.

So, this year, before the Gulf oil spill, President Obama had offered additional sweeteners in exchange for Republican cooperation in not preventing an up or down vote on a climate bill: some limited expanded oil drilling leases.

The administration figured that greenhouse gas pollution from US oil drilling is (relatively) a drop in the ocean compared with those from coal plants, so that the larger purpose would be served with a small harmless token, since the US, 80% dependent on foreign oil, produces a tiny fraction of the world’s oil, while by contrast, it is one of the leading coal producers globally.

It was an unfortunate bet, as the Gulf oil spill showed. And it didn’t work.

With no cooperation on climate legislation received by the end of the session, this month he reversed the drilling expansion he had offered as his end of the bargain. The Senate minority not only did not cooperate, it tried but failed to pass legislation to prevent the EPA from reducing carbon dioxide emissions in the summer. The withdrawal of the bargaining chip this month roused immediate reaction from the oil industry.

With no climate legislation enacted in the Senate by the end of the session, today’s announcement completes the promised action. As it already does successfully with acid rain pollutants, the EPA will regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources that emit more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases annually.

Image: The White House
Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

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  • Ed

    Great news!

    But, my last count shows there are 50 States. When will permits in all jurisdictions be addressing GHG emissions?

    I can visualize the new Senate leader (from KY) making dour pronouncements about “EPA warfare against the American People”, and the new House leader (from OH) crying, yes bawling it out, Hell No! These performances will, no doubt, be legendary. I bet both KY and OH are gross pigs for GHG emissions. I am also waiting to hear what will be said by the twangy Senator/physician from OK.

    Many (but not all) players in the electric utility industry have fought clean air laws, painting themselves into corners after wasting much money on:
    1. Retaining legions of lawyers and lobbyists to fight laws to protect public health and the environment because there were “No known abatement technologies”. Meanwhile the Apollo program was making regular round trip flights to the moon,
    2. Fuel conversion from domestic coal to imported low sulfur fuel oil (then changing direction in the mid 1970s, thanks to OPEC),
    3. Installing tall stacks to disperse flue gas pollutants (denial of a law of physics, producing interstate acid rain),
    3. Post-combustion gas cleaning (more denial of physics – duh, what do we do with the wastes?),
    4. Joining the coal industry’s PR program (instead of funding real game-changing research) thereby contributing to the illusion of imminent production of commercial quantities of “clean fuels” from “dirty coal” – the only “clean fuels” from coal appears on roadside billboards in West Virginia, but that is it,
    5. Other PR smoke screens for inconsequential industry research, creating more illusions.

    The utility industry, which is primarily privately owned, is plagued with the financial weight of 19th and 20th Century business, technology, and institutional models; and bad decisions. It has successfully resisted modernization to meet the evolving expectations of customers and society. The question is will industry expectations trump the public expectations.

    Perhaps the 112th Congress and the President can do something to steer the industry toward the 21st Century and better meet public expectations.

    • Hey Ed, you forgot the most important Lawmaker’s for Coal, Jay Rock, Nick Rahall and Shelley Capito. My state Lawmaker’s are already crying,because they will have to take a cut in pay now.
      Google Earth Southern WV and look at what our Lawmaker’s have done to our state,it’s a wasteland. Yet they are still fighting for permits to do more,our state’s Mtn’s are gone. Also if you want to check out the Highly Educated comments on Coal,look at wowk or wsaz news channels in WV. The people of WV are brainwashed into thinking Coal rules the world. They will also argue that the Technology isn’t here for Solar,Wind and Hydro. Coal not only destroys the earth,but our Education system also.

      Please excuse my spelling’s I just had hand surgery and it’s very hard for me to type. Took me 20 mins,to type this. 🙂

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